Tuesday 21 November 2017

UN Security Council told of horrors of besieged Aleppo

Women and children carry belongings as they flee towards safer parts of Manbij city, in Aleppo Governorate, Syria. Photo: Rodi Said/Reuters
Women and children carry belongings as they flee towards safer parts of Manbij city, in Aleppo Governorate, Syria. Photo: Rodi Said/Reuters

Rachael Alexander

A grim portrait of suffering inside the besieged Syrian city of Aleppo - with persistent barrel bombings, attacks on hospitals and the use of chemical weapons - has been unveiled to the UN Security Council.

Dr Zaher Sahloul, a Syrian-American doctor from Chicago, outlined a litany of horrors that would shame the international community for its failure to intervene.

The informal meeting of the council was organised by the United States.

The doctor described how people are dying from treatable conditions for lack of medical care and basic supplies.

Dr Sahloul also said he asked a nurse there what she wanted most from the United Nations and she replied that she wanted help evacuating a 10-year-old girl named Shahd who was wounded by a barrel bomb and is now dying due to a shortage of medicine.

"We don't need condemnations, prayers or pointing fingers, we had enough of that. I ask you to meet the people of Aleppo and see them as humans. I have one request, besides saving Shahd, visit Aleppo yourself and meet with its doctors, nurses and patients. If three doctors from Chicago were able to do that, you can do it," Dr Sahloul told diplomats.

He described how the city only had 35 physicians and that 15 healthcare facilities had been attacked in July alone.

Currently, more than 250,000 people are besieged by government forces in the eastern part of Aleppo. The city has been divided into rebel and government-controlled parts since 2012. The government completely closed the main road into the rebel-held areas of Aleppo on July 17, effectively cutting off all supplies and exit routes.

Rebels breached the Syrian government siege on opposition neighbourhoods in Aleppo on Saturday, opening a corridor in the south and marking a major military breakthrough, but observers said civilians still don't have a safe route out because of intense airstrikes and shelling in the area.

The city is in dire need of water, and yesterday Abdullah Nawhlu, a member of Syrian Civil Defence, a neutral and impartial humanitarian group, speaking by video from Aleppo, described a dire situation with rapidly dwindling stocks of food and fuel, not to mention medical supplies.

"If the siege of Aleppo continues ... greater humanitarian disasters will happen, as there will be no medicine for the injured."

Irish-born US Ambassador Samantha Power called on the Security Council to "send a clear, unified message that these sieges must end, and that there's no justification for cutting innocent people off from basic aid."

"To this end, we once again urge Russia to stop facilitating these sieges, and to use its influence to press the regime to end its sieges across Syria once and for all," Power said.

Russia responded by accusing the US of playing politics with a humanitarian issue.

And Russia warned again last night that the next round of peace talks should not depend on a halt to fighting in the city - after UN Syrian envoy Staffan de Mistura told the UN Security Council he aims to reconvene negotiations in late August.

Speaking after a closed door meeting of the 15-member council, Russian UN Ambassador Vitaly Churkin told reporters: "The lower the level of violence the better it is for the talks... but there must be no preconditions for the talks."

Insurgents effectively broke a month-long government siege of eastern, opposition-held Aleppo on Saturday, severing the primary government supply corridor and raising the prospect that government-held western Aleppo might become besieged.

Churkin called on countries with influence over the Syrian opposition to make sure they are prepared for future talks.

"They were coming to the talks without saying anything, they were just saying [Syrian President Bashar] 'Assad must go' and this is not a negotiating position," he said.

Russia and the US are both conducting air strikes in Syria against Isil fighters, but support opposing sides in a wider civil war, with Moscow backing Assad's government and Washington saying he must leave office.

Peace talks broke up last April after the opposition delegation quit, accusing the government of ignoring a cessation of hostilities brokered in February.

Irish Independent

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