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(New York) – Syrian government authorities and armed opposition groups should immediately and without condition facilitate the delivery of humanitarian aid to opposition-controlled parts of Aleppo city, Human Rights Watch said today

Local activists and residents in besieged eastern Aleppo told Human Rights Watch that the situation in the area is dire, with food and medicine growing scarce and extreme limitations on the ability to provide medical treatment. On December 3, 2016, the United Nations described the humanitarian situation in eastern Aleppo as “catastrophic,” with at least 400 critically wounded or sick people needing immediate evacuation. Aid organizations said that residents of eastern Aleppo are verging on starvation and told Human Rights Watch that no aid has reached eastern Aleppo since July, despite UN Security Council demands that all parties to the conflict ensure that aid reaches all those in need.

A civilian collects tree branches from the rubble of a damaged site in Aleppo’s rebel-held besieged Qadi Askar neighbourhood.   © 2016 Reuters

“Despite the dwindling territory under opposition-control in Aleppo, accounts from residents there reflect that the dire lack of food, water, and medical supplies persists,” said Lama Fakih, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “There will be serious consequences if the parties don’t immediately facilitate aid delivery, as the laws of war require.”

On November 27, forces affiliated with the Syrian government began taking over major neighborhoods in eastern Aleppo that had been under the control of armed opposition groups. The offensive has displaced tens of thousands of people. Many of them have left eastern Aleppo for government-held western Aleppo and the Kurdish-held Sheikh Maqsoud neighborhood. Others have been displaced within the eastern part of the city. According to the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, civilians have been blocked by armed opposition groups as they attempted to flee violence, and there have been allegations of government reprisals against civilians suspected of supporting armed opposition groups and men being separated from women and children. The Government of Syria has reportedly been screening civilians as they flee to government-controlled areas. Eastern Aleppo residents told Human Rights Watch that people displaced to parts of Aleppo still under opposition control are squatting in empty buildings or crammed into alleyways with their children and lack basic supplies like food and water. They said the area had limited access to medical services and that prices for minimal electricity, water, and food were skyrocketing.

The Russian-Syrian coalition’s intense bombing of opposition-controlled parts of Aleppo is compounding the dire humanitarian situation, Human Rights Watch said. Human Rights Watch research established that the coalition had committed war crimes during a month-long bombing campaign in September and October.

“Today we cried over a patient who died in our hospital,” Ahmad Said, a nurse, told Human Rights Watch over WhatsApp messaging. “The doctor couldn’t do anything to help him. The entire hospital could not do anything.”  He said:

We have no oxygen canisters left. Supplies are running out. We have no intensive care unit. I don’t know what to tell you. The medical situation we’re in reduces us to tears. People are eating from whatever is left, what they grow in their small home gardens. They now crush white beans and combine it with wheat to make bread.

Mohamed Abu Jafar, a forensic doctor with the eastern Aleppo health directorate, said that streets were lined with bodies:

People arrive to eastern Aleppo without anything at all, they walk long distances, and arrive to neighborhoods where people welcome them and offer them what they can. There’s no water in most neighborhoods, the pipes have been targeted by the military and destroyed. Transportation is almost nonexistent. People can only walk. We have no vehicles left to transport the injured, some are being transported on vegetable carts. We no longer have time to report and count casualties as we did before. But now there’s 30, 40, 50 bodies a day and we’re overwhelmed. The situation is really difficult. Unimaginably difficult. Aleppo’s in a disaster now.

Bilal, a Marja neighborhood resident in eastern Aleppo, said the situation has become desperate:

Massacres are happening and the world is watching.

Everything is out of service now. The water has been cut and the hospitals are all bombed and all the bakeries too. Food items are really expensive, flour is about US$20 a kilo, sugar is US$13 a kilo. Bread is rationed to only five slices per family. There are no vegetables anymore and no medicine and there is no fuel for cars. We are moving injured people using carts.

Omar al-Arab, a photographer who lives in eastern Aleppo, said that many people feared for their lives:

Areas are being bombed daily everywhere in Aleppo.

There are so many displaced people everywhere in the city and bodies are littered on the roads. There are only small clinics that are trying to deal with the traumatized victims. Next time you talk to me I may not even be in Aleppo anymore, or maybe I will be dead.

Jan Egeland, UN senior advisor to the UN’s special envoy to Syria, said that the continued violence in Aleppo was making it impossible to access the area to deliver aid. The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said that it had received unconfirmed reports that armed opposition groups were preventing residents from leaving eastern Aleppo to reach west Aleppo.

Under international humanitarian law, all parties to an armed conflict are obligated to facilitate rapid and unimpeded humanitarian assistance to all civilians in need and allow civilians to freely leave an area under siege. Starvation as a method of warfare is prohibited.

In February 2014, the UN Security Council passed resolution 2139 to guarantee the delivery of aid, calling on all sides in the Syrian war to facilitate humanitarian access to all parts of Syria. In light of the Syrian government’s failure to comply, the council passed resolution 2165 on July 14, 2014, authorizing UN agencies and their implementing partners to deliver aid across four borders not controlled by Syria’s government.

According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian, 4.9 million people live in besieged or hard-to-reach areas. These areas all suffer from bombing and inadequate aid, nutrition, water, and medical care.

Despite the Syrian government’s persistent non-compliance with the UN Security Council’s resolutions on the immediate delivery of humanitarian assistance, the council has not taken any further measures, despite affirming that they would do so in resolution 2165. On December 5, Russia once again used its veto to block UN Security Council action on Syria. The draft resolution would have called for a seven-day pause in hostilities and demanded safe access to all areas for humanitarian assistance.

In light of the UN Security Council’s failure to act to deter ongoing violations in Aleppo, Human Rights Watch and more than 200 nongovernmental organizations called on the UN General Assembly to hold an emergency special session to demand an end to all unlawful attacks on civilians in Aleppo and elsewhere in Syria, and immediate and unhindered access so that life-saving aid can reach all those in need. Responding to the Security Council deadlock, the General Assembly on December 9, passed a non-binding resolution demanding safe, sustained, unhindered. and unconditional humanitarian access across Syria.

“Time is running out for Aleppo’s civilians,” Fakih said. “If the UN does not act swiftly, it will be too late.”

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