Hours After Lavrov Announced A Halt, Offensive On Aleppo In Full Swing; UN Report Warns Of Atrocities

December 9, 2016
Aleppo under fire today. Photo: Rami Zien (@Rami_Zien)

Regular Updates: The previous post in our Putin in Syria column can be found here.

Hours After Lavrov Announced A Halt, Offensive On Aleppo In Full Swing; UN Report Warns Of Atrocities

Despite last night’s announcement from the Russian foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, that Russian and Syrian regime combat operations in Aleppo were halting to allow civilians to be evacuated, the offensive is in full-swing today.

The Syrian Local Coordination Committees (LCC) report Russian air strikes on the Sukkari, Kallaseh and Fardos neighborhoods. Two children were reportedly killed during a barrel bomb attack by the Syrian regime.

Warning – graphic images:

Speaking at an OSCE meeting in Hamburg today, Lavrov admitted that the offensive had resumed, claiming:

“I never said that military activities have been stopped completely. I just said that they were halted yesterday for a specific period of time in order to provide civilians with an opportunity to leave. After these humanitarian pauses, military operations will go on until eastern Aleppo is liberated from militants.

Everybody has understood it, our US counterparts have understood it,”

With the Syrian regime and its allies, including Iranian forces and Shiiite militias, pressing ever further into Aleppo, a UN report published today describes allegations that “hundreds of men have gone missing after crossing into government-controlled areas.”

Rupert Colville, spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Right, said: 

Family members say they lost contact with the men, between the ages of 30 and 50, after they fled opposition-controlled areas of Aleppo around a week or ten days ago. There are also approximately 150 activists inside opposition-controlled Aleppo who fear being detained by Government forces if they attempt to leave. Given the terrible record of arbitrary detention, torture and enforced disappearances by the Syrian Government, we are of course deeply concerned about the fate of these individuals.

This is all the more frightening given that a top Russian general declared last week that “the entire male population [of Aleppo], including teenagers above 12 years of age, has been forcibly mobilized by militants.”

In the same UN report, Colville also relayed reports that certain rebel groups in Aleppo may be barring civilians from fleeing, or carrying out violent repressions:

Some of the civilians who have been trying to flee are reportedly being blocked by armed opposition groups. During the last two weeks, Fatah al-Sham Front (formerly al-Nusra Front) and the Abu Amara Battalion are alleged to have abducted and killed an unknown number of civilians who requested the armed groups to leave their neighbourhoods, to spare the lives of civilians. The groups have reportedly demanded that activists inform them of civilians attempting to leave, along with the names of those who participated in protests against the presence of Fatah al-Sham Front and groups affiliated with them in al-Ferdous and Bustan al-Qasr neighbourhoods a few weeks earlier. We have also received reports that between 30 November and 1 December, armed opposition groups fired on civilians attempting to leave in the Bustan al-Qasr area towards Government-controlled Msharqa.

Similar incidents of civilians being prevented from leaving rebel-held territory to enter the Kurdish-controlled Sheikh Maqsood neighborhood have been reported twice by the London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR). One of these cases has been confirmed by a second witness to The Times

However the SOHR has stressed that they do not believe rebels are operating a policy of using human shields, reporting that thousands of civilians have indeed been able to leave rebel-held areas.

On this, the Russian military appears to agree, claiming today 10,724 civilians had left rebel-held territory within the past 24 hours. In addition, the military claimed that 30 rebel fighters had surrendered.

New York Times reporter Anne Barnard is reporting on the situation in Aleppo. She reports that civilians who flee are often harassed, blocked, or even detained, and so many are scared to leave even when the level of violence has been so terrifying:

Pierre Vaux, James Miller