Catastrophe in Aleppo as cease-fire dissolves
Syria | U.S. diplomacy is no match for Syria’s barrel bombs
by Mindy Belz
Posted 12/14/16, 12:34 pm
Samantha Power, the U.S. ambassador to the UN, took direct aim Tuesday at a fellow member of the UN Security Council in an emergency briefing on Syria. “Is there literally nothing that can shame you?” she asked her Russian counterparts as the siege of Aleppo brought an endless stream of images and reports of civilian atrocities.
“Aleppo will join the ranks of those events in world history that define modern evil,” the United States’ top UN official said. The Syrian regime, Russia, and Iran, she accused, have allowed militias to encircle city residents. “It is your noose,” Power said. “It should shame you, but instead, by all appearances, it is emboldening you.”
The forceful speech was one more in a series of seemingly fruitless maneuvers by the United States as diplomatic efforts by Power and Secretary of State John Kerry repeatedly have failed in recent months to halt fighting, even momentarily, in Syria.
A concerted December offensive by the regime of President Bashar al-Assad, backed by Russia and Iran, aimed to expel armed opposition groups from their dug-in positions in eastern Aleppo at the expense of civilians living there.
“Bombing is ongoing, no one can move. Everyone is hiding and terrified. The situation is indescribable,” Mohammad al-Khatib told AFP news agency today from inside the city. “The wounded and dead are lying in the street. No one dares to try and retrieve the bodies.”
During the past week, fighting increasingly intensified over an area of about 3 square miles in eastern Aleppo. As the regime dropped barrel bombs and sent artillery fire into residential quarters, underground medical facilities collapsed and about 100,000 residents became trapped. Over 500 people took shelter in one building, reported four Syrian medical and civil defense groups operating alongside the rescue squad known as the White Helmets in the rebel-held enclave. “We can do no more,” the group said in a signed communiqué issued Monday night, calling on the international community to provide safe passage out of eastern Aleppo for remaining civilians.
As residents began to flee, bombing continued and a steady rain began to fall. Parents holding small children by the hand picked their way over dead bodies in the streets to escape. One image showed a man with his wife ducking from shelling, holding a child in one arm and an IV bag in another, the drip still attached to the blanket-wrapped infant. Some photos showed adults holding babies wrapped in blood-soaked blankets or pushing the injured in carts as they made their way out of bombed apartment buildings. Early Wednesday morning, AFP reporter Karam al-Masri watched as a mother with a child in her arms stooped in freezing rain, desperate to scoop some spilled powdered baby formula from the mud at her feet.
Overnight, a temporary cease-fire accord reached between rebels and Russian-backed Syrian forces collapsed. With awaiting buses parked on the edge of the surrounded sector, prepared to take trapped residents to safety, Iranian officials reportedly scuttled the deal.
“Cease-fire is over. Everyone will be executed when Assad’s forces and their thugs capture our liberated area,” wrote Ismail Alabdullah, a member of the White Helmets. He posted a video of a grim, rainy neighborhood inside Aleppo rocked by booming air strikes.
Many sectors of Aleppo have been without water and electricity, some for months and some for years. But critical food and medical shortages in recent weeks have worsened the humanitarian crisis. Regime forces targeted and destroyed the remaining medical facilities in the city by mid-November, according to a U.S.-based medical consortium working in Syria, the Union of Medical Care and Relief Organizations.
As civilians made their way out of targeted areas hoping to reach government-controlled western Aleppo, many were stopped at checkpoints, some manned by opposition groups and some by government soldiers. The UN reported at least 82 civilians executed by the Assad regime, and residents reported men conscripted into services.
Solar-powered networks allowed residents otherwise cut off from the world to send out desperate final pleas. Using the hashtag #AleppoExterminated, many sent pictorial good-byes. Seven-year-old Bana al-Abed, has been tweeting photos and messages since mid-September along with her mother, Fatemah. “This is my moment to either live or die,” she tweeted on Tuesday. New York Times reporter Megan Specia confirmed she spoke multiple times via limited cellphone service and WhatsApp messages to the girl and her mother in eastern Aleppo, but also acknowledged some of their messages were rehearsed, fueling speculation they’d become a propaganda source for the opposition.
More than 40 churches are clustered in central Aleppo, mostly in the Old City district straddling eastern and western sectors. The churches hosted feeding programs for thousands of war-strained Christians and Muslims, but two years ago that area came under attack by Islamic State (ISIS) and other militant groups and has been largely abandoned since. Sporadic aid efforts by church-affiliated groups appear to have halted under recent heavy bombardments.
Frustration with Russia’s bolstering the Assad regime spilled into the streets overnight as protesters took to the streets in places as varied as Denver and Istanbul. But Syria’s civil war is far from over. As U.S. ambassador to the UN Power warned, the imminent success of Syria and its allies in Aleppo likely will only embolden the coalition to replicate the brutality elsewhere.