UN Security Council Holds Emergency Session on Aleppo; Russia Calls ‘Propaganda’ as Reportedly 50,000 Civilians Flee

November 30, 2016
Civilians killed in Syrian government and allied troops' offensive on Aleppo, November 30, 2016. Photo via all4syria.info

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UN Security Council Holds Emergency Session on Aleppo; Russia Calls ‘Propaganda’ as Reportedly 50,000 Civilians Flee

As forces allied to the Syrian regime advance on the Syrian city of Aleppo in a Russia-backed offensive, and 50,000 people pour out of the area, the United Nations Security Council is holding an emergency session today, November 30, VOA reported.

Amb. Vitaly Churkin, Russia’s permanent representative to the UN, called the proposal “a propaganda campaign,” VOA reported.

U.N. special envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura has made a dire announcement as fighting in Aleppo continues to intensify and more civilians try to flee, VOA reported.

“Clearly, I cannot deny: This is a military acceleration and I can’t tell you how long eastern Aleppo will last,” de Mistura said during remarks to the European Parliament. “There is a constant increase of movement on the military side.”

Mistura added that Aleppo was at risk for becoming “a giant graveyard,” Reuters reported, as another UN official pleaded for action:

Speaking to a special Security Council session by video-link from London, Stephen O’Brien, the UN under-secretary-general for humanitarian affairs, appealed for action to stop the fighting.

“For the sake of humanity we call on — we plead — with the parties and those with influence to do everything in their power to protect civilians and enable access to the besieged part of eastern Aleppo before it becomes one giant graveyard,” he said.

Syrian government troops and allied fighters have already seized at least a third of the rebel-held eastern section of Aleppo since they began an offensive to re-capture the city two weeks ago.

Yesterday, November 29, on instructions from President Vladimir Putin, Russian Defense Ministery Sergei Shoigu ordered a special military medical brigade and mobile field hospitals to Aleppo, Russia’s Defense Ministry channel TV Zvezda announced.

TV Zvezda said the hospitals contained pop-up tents known as “pneumo-frame modules” containing equipment for ambulatory, specialized, and children’s care to provide for anaesthesia, surgery, intensive care, x-rays, and lab diagnostics.

The need for medical stations is urgent since as we reported earlier this month, all the hospitals have been destroyed in Aleppo — including by Russian bombing itself.

TASS also reported that Putin and Turkish President Recep Erdogan had agreed to step up delivery of aid to Aleppo. 

In a statement issued today, Doctors Without Borders also described mounting indiscriminate attacks on civilians — and aid workers — in other towns as well:

From November 17 onwards, MSF-supported facilities in East Ghouta and in Al Waer, a besieged community near Homs, have been reporting very high numbers of war-wounded and dead. Hospitals in the East Ghouta area reported 261 wounded and 30 dead over that time frame, while the hospital in Al Waer reported that 100 were wounded and 13 were killed on just one day of bombing and shelling.

During this same period, medical workers and facilities have themselves been among the casualties. One paramedic in East Ghouta was severely wounded during an airstrike. An anesthesia technician was wounded by sniper fire in Zabadani.

Three ambulances were hit and destroyed. And one MSF-supported hospital in the East Ghouta area was damaged when a bomb hit the building next door, putting the Intensive Care Unit out of action at a time when the service was desperately needed for wounded casualties.

Schools and residential areas have been hit as well, suggesting at least some of these attacks involved indiscriminate bombing and shelling of civilian areas. While the full data breakdown of the ages and gender of those killed or wounded in Al Waer is not yet available, in East Ghouta, 43 percent of the wounded and 60 percent of the dead have been children under 15 years old and women.

“While we continue to raise our voice about the catastrophic situation in east Aleppo, alarm bells are again ringing loud in several other areas of intense conflict,” says Anja Wolz, Medical Manager of MSF medical support programs in Syria. “Just yesterday, two schools in East Ghouta were hit in aerial attacks as the students were leaving at the end of the day. All but one of the wounded were women and children, with 16 being treated at an MSF-supported facility and others referred to other facilities in the area by ambulance. And last Sunday, a rescue team trying to dig victims out of bomb rubble in Al Waer found themselves under sustained mortar shelling, resulting in nine of the rescue workers being wounded and requiring treatment themselves.

“Yet again, we are horrified at the numbers of women and children among the wounded and dead coming to MSF-supported medical facilities,” continues Wolz. “We should all be very concerned indeed about the fate of civilians trapped in these areas of intense conflict. If the bombing and fighting cannot be stopped, at the very least, extreme care must be taken by the warring parties to avoid hitting the medics and ambulance teams going about their life-saving work.”

— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick