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UN: Time running out to prevent catastrophe in Aleppo

The UN has warned of an imminent collapse of east Aleppo [Getty]

Date of publication: 20 November, 2016

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The UN envoy to Syria has warned that the clock is ticking to prevent a major humanitarian crisis in Aleppo as the city is subject to massive bombing.
The UN's envoy to Syria has warned that time was "running out" to prevent a new humanitarian catastrophe in Syria's war-battered Aleppo.

Staffan de Mistura met Syria's Foreign Minister Walid Muallem in Damascus for talks on the escalating violence, after the regime launched massive bombing raids on the rebel-held besieged east of the city.

He was rebuffed on a truce proposal that would allow the opposition to administer the city's rebel-held east, with Muallem demanding rebels leave the district.

"We are running out of time, we are running against time," De Mistura said afterwards.

Imminent crisis

Aid agencies fear that "instead of a humanitarian or a political initiative" there would be "an acceleration of military activities" in eastern Aleppo and elsewhere, he told journalists.

"By Christmas... due to military intensification, you will have the virtual collapse of what is left in eastern Aleppo; you may have 200,000 people moving towards Turkey - that would be a humanitarian catastrophe."

International concern has been mounting since Damascus began a ferocious assault last Tuesday, using air raids, barrel bombs and artillery fire in a bid to recapture eastern Aleppo.

On Sunday, rebels retaliated with a barrage of rockets into the city's government-held west.

Regime media reported that at least eight primary school children in the Furqan neighbourhood were killed in the attack, and showed footage of a damaged schoolroom.

Syrian television showed bloodied, weeping children being treated in hospital, and an AFP journalist saw pupils being rushed from the school and comforted after the attack.

In the east, another AFP journalist said streets were deserted, with only ambulances and rescue workers moving around.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based monitoring group, said on Sunday that 54 people had been killed in the previous 24 hours, mostly civilians.
We are running out of time, we are running against time.
- Staffan de Mistura, UN's Syria envoy

That brought to 103 the number of civilians killed, including 17 children, since the bombardment of east Aleppo resumed, it said.

Ground fighting

The Observatory also reported heavy fighting between regime forces and rebels as the army sought to gain ground in the eastern Bustan al-Basha and Sheikh Saeed neighbourhoods.

De Mistura said he opened his talks with Muallem by "expressing serious concern and indeed shared the general international outrage for the news coming from eastern Aleppo".

Muallem said he had rejected a proposal for a truce deal that would recognise an autonomous rebel administration in east Aleppo.

De Mistura has recently floated a proposal to halt fighting in the city, under which rebel forces would leave and the government would recognise the opposition administration in the east.

"We told him that we reject that completely," the foreign minister said. "How is it possible that the UN wants to reward terrorists?"

The regime offensive has forced the closure of hospitals and schools, destroyed rescue worker facilities and left residents cowering in their homes.

US National Security Advisor Susan Rice said Washington condemned "in the strongest terms these horrific attacks against medical infrastructure and humanitarian aid workers".

"The Syrian regime and its allies, Russia in particular, bears responsibility for the immediate and long-term consequences these actions have caused in Syria and beyond."

Meanwhile footage and images shared by Syrian activists has shown the desperate situation in Aleppo with wounded being treated on the floor not the district's hospitals have been put out of use by regime bombing.

An image was also shared on social media showing the bodies of five children killed in a gas attack on opposition-held Aleppo.

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