Millions of Syrians in ‘Free Fall’, Raging Battles Hinder Aid Access – UN


Human Wrongs Watch

The tragedy unfolding in what has sadly become “the battle for Aleppo,” where attacks and counter-attacks over the past days have only compounded the suffering on two million civilians already struggling to cope with power outages and water shortages, spotlights again that there is “no military solution [there] or anywhere else in Syria,” the United Nations envoy on the crisis on 11 August 2016 said.

Children prepare a fire for cooking in Aleppo city, Syria. As of 2 August 2016, children are again facing terrible threats from new intense attacks and fighting in the western parts of the city. Photo: UNICEF/Khuder Al-Issa

“Civilians on both sides of the conflict – on both sides of Aleppo – are in danger of being surrounded and affected by shortages and bombings,” UN Special Envoy for Syria told reporters in Geneva, where he stressed that as the fighting in Aleppo has escalated, the people should not be forgotten and neither should the ongoing United Nations appeal for weekly 48 hour ceasefires.

As for the Russian proposal of three hour pauses in the hostilities, he said that amount of time is insufficient.

“We need 48 hours in order to make convoys […] effective,” he said, adding that Russia had indicated its willingness to discuss as soon as possible, with the UN, “how to improve what has been, in my opinion, an initial idea.”

De Mistura also said that senior military officials from Russia and the United States are still working on restoring an overall ceasefire “focusing on the Castello road developments, no doubt, and on general new approaches for a reduction in violence,” he said referring to the main supply route into the area.

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Children displaced from ongoing conflict shelter under makeshift tents on Muhalak highway in the western part of Aleppo, Syria. Photo: UNICEF/Khuder Al-Issa

Also briefing the press, de Mistura’s Special Advisor, Jan Egeland said: “The stakes cannot be higher in the coming days, because, really, millions of Syrian civilians are now in a seeming free fall, from Aleppo to Eastern Ghouta, from Fua and Kefraya to Zabadani and Madaya, and to the whole people of Darayya, who are still waiting the second half of the first convoy that they promised them.”

Egeland said the situation is “heart wrenching” for thousands of humanitarian workers in and around Syria to not be allowed by the fighting to come to the rescue as a lifeline to these millions of people.

“There are enormous resources ready and humanitarian workers willing to take the risk to go into these zones, if they get the permission, and they are not at the moment” he stated.

Nowhere is the battle raging so brutally for the civilian population as in Aleppo, he continued, noting that currently, the situations in eastern and western Aleppo for civilians have now been very much interlinked.

“They rely on the same electrical power plants that serve the same water pumping stations and they are now without water and without electricity regularly. That is of course, also, an opening to some extent, because now they also rely to a large extent on the same access road, Castello road, and it’s the road where we would like to serve both eastern Aleppo and western Aleppo,” Egeland noted.

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On 5 August 2016 in Aleppo city, Syria, families take shelter in a mosque after the latest wave of attacks. Some families stay indoors, others take shelter under makeshift tents or prefabricated rooms near the mosque’s entrance. Photo: UNICEF/Khuder Al-Issa

Today [11 August] in the meeting, the Russian delegation confirmed their willingness to sit down with us today and tomorrow to try to agree on a workable humanitarian pause for us to go the Aleppo road and to help the people in the east and in the west.

“Three hours is indeed not enough, it’s really nothing,” he said, referring to today’s meeting of the Humanitarian Taskforce of the International Syria Support Group (ISSG), which is co-chaired by Russia and the United States and comprises the UN, the Arab League, the European Union and 16 other countries that have been working on a way forward since late last year.

Jan Egeland, UN Special Advisor to the Special Envoy for Syria, briefs reporters on the need for humanitarian partners to have proper access in Syria, especially to save the children in desperate need of medical evacuation. Credit: UN News Centre

“We need 48 hours; that’s how we see it now and we want to sit down with the Russian side. We need a pause in the fighting that has to be guaranteed by the Russians, the US, the Government (of Syria) and the armed opposition groups. We need 48 hours, because the people are so many, the convoys have to be picked, the roads are so destroyed, there are so many dangers, the logistics are so enormous that we need time each week and we need 48 hours,” he stressed.

Asked about reports today that several people died and many were injured when a toxic gas, believed to be chlorine, was dropped alongside barrel bombs on an Aleppo neighbourhood yesterday,  de Mistrua said: “It’s really not for me to assess who did it and whether it actually took place, although there is a lot of evidence that it actually did take place. We have a special UN and other organizations addressing that. But if it did take place, it is a war crime.”

Meanwhile, the UN refugee agency expressed grave concern at the dire situation of civilians in Aleppo and at attacks on internally displaced people (IDP) settlements in its Idleb Governorate.

Over the last 10 days, IDP settlements in Idleb have suffered a series of attacks, as have other IDP settlements and civilians elsewhere in the country, resulting in civilian casualties and further displacement, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) noted in press release today 11 August.

“The attacks indicate a shocking disregard for civilian life,” the agency said in the press release, calling for “a durable and sustainable solution to this conflict.”

Drawing attention to the situation in Aleppo city, the agency also urged all parties to the conflict in Syria, “To ensure, first and foremost, the safety and dignity of civilians, including families and vulnerable groups trapped in Aleppo city who are facing constant bombardment, violence, and displacement.”

Underscoring the importance of allowing access to safety, and respect for the civilian and humanitarian character of IDP settlements, UNHCR reiterated its call for ensuring the protection of civilians based on international humanitarian law, international refugee law, and human rights law. (Source: UN).

2016 Human Wrongs Watch

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