Monday 26 June 2017

Tens of thousands displaced in Aleppo after government offensive, says UN

The Syrian government took over a city just outside Damascus after a rebel retreat (AP)
The Syrian government took over a city just outside Damascus after a rebel retreat (AP)

About 31,500 people have been displaced in rebel-held parts of Aleppo over the past week, according to the UN humanitarian aid agency, with some reportedly killed or detained trying to enter government-held areas.

Most of those displaced fled to government and Kurdish-held areas in western Aleppo, separated only by roads and deserted buildings.

Many were also displaced inside rebel-held parts of the city, cramming into already crowded and damaged areas in south and central eastern Aleppo.

From the government-controlled areas, state broadcaster al-Ikhabirya TV showed hundreds of displaced people sitting on rain-soaked streets.

They also showed newly displaced residents lodged in empty buildings pockmarked with bullets, fresh laundry hung between.

The state-owned channel showed dozens of the displaced people waving Syrian flags from green government buses.

The government has been keen to show it is restoring normality to the shell-shocked community after the swift restoration of government control to areas held by the opposition for four years.

Syrian officials visited the newly captured areas as workers were filmed clearing debris.

An Ikhbariya broadcaster said work is under way to reopen a road linking the eastern and western parts of the city, disused for years. He also interviewed newly resettled residents, who spoke of rebel abuses.

One displaced woman interviewed in the government-held Jibreen district said her son was shot dead as he fled rebel areas.

The woman, who did not give her name, said she would carry a gun to avenge her son's killing. She praised the Syrian army and said her family had no food or drink in rebel-held areas and were treated badly.

Others interviewed in the newly captured Hanano district complained of being mistreated on suspicion of co-operating with the Syrian army, including one who said he was detained.

Opposition and activists had also accused the government of shelling displaced Syrians who were fleeing the government advance. At least 50 people were killed in artillery shelling in the rebel-held district where to which they were fleeing.

The Office of Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs estimated that 26,500 people fled to government-held Jibreen, east of Aleppo, and Kurdish-held Sheik Massoud. Another 5,000 were displaced within eastern Aleppo.

Spokesman Jens Laerke cited reports that some men and boys trying to enter government-controlled western Aleppo had been detained by government troops. Amnesty International said it had received reports of Syrian security forces detaining men in areas recaptured by the government and warned of the potential for revenge attacks.

The reports could not be independently confirmed and a Syrian military official said screening measures were in place to prevent "terrorists" infiltrating the civilians.

Meanwhile, clashes continued on the southern edge of eastern Aleppo as pro-government troops attempted to breach the rebel enclave.

Another front is in the eastern part of the rebel-held enclave, where pro-government troops have kept up their advance on opposition fighters, state media reported.

Al-Ikhbariya said at least one person was killed in western Aleppo by rebel rockets.

UN officials have expressed concern over the plight of civilians caught in the fighting in Aleppo, and called for more access to the eastern part of the city that has been besieged since July. There have been no operational hospitals in eastern Aleppo for nearly two weeks after they were bombed.

Meanwhile, the Russian military criticised the UN for dragging its feet on delivering humanitarian aid to the areas of Aleppo seized by Syrian government forces.

Defence Ministry spokesman Major General Igor Konashenkov said the Russian military has been the only source of food, medicine and other supplies for 90,000 residents of neighbourhoods seized by the Syrian army this week.

UN emergency co-ordinator Stephen O'Brien said local partners of the UN have provided hot meals and drinkable water to those displaced in Jibreen and urged the Syrian government to ensure UN staff can deploy unrestricted and safely across Aleppo.

AP

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