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Aleppo becoming 'giant graveyard' as thousands flee regime onslaught

Over 50,000 people are fleeing intense fighting between government and rebel forces in Aleppo [AFP]

Date of publication: 1 December, 2016

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The UN humanitarian chief has warned that Aleppo was at risk of turning into a "giant graveyard" as fighting intensified between government and rebel forces.

The UN's aid chief warned on Wednesday that Aleppo risked becoming a "giant graveyard" after more than 50,000 people were reported to have fled intense fighting between government and rebel forces.

"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," Stephen O'Brien told a special Security Council meeting in New York by video-link from London.

His statement came as Syria's opposition urged the UN to take immediate steps to protect civilians.

Anas al-Abdeh, the head of Syria's opposition National Coalition, urged on Wednesday the UN to "take immediate, definitive steps to protect civilians in Aleppo and stop the barbaric offensive against them".

"This escalation is a war crime and a crime against humanity, another item on the Assad regime's long, bloody, barbaric list," Abdeh said.

Government troops and allied fighters have seized around 40 percent of the rebel-held east of Aleppo since they began an operation to recapture all of the city just over a fortnight ago.

They now fully control the city's northeast and pressed their offensive on Wednesday on Aleppo's southeastern edges, advancing in the Sheikh Saeed district, according to state media.

The loss of Aleppo would be the biggest blow for Syria's opposition since the conflict began in March 2011 with anti-government protests, before spiralling into a civil war.

Safe passage

On a visit to Paris, a local council leader in east Aleppo called for safe passage for desperate civilians, warning the UN would be "signing the death warrant of 250,000 people" if it failed to act.

"Let the civilians leave, protect the civilians, put in place a safe corridor so they can leave," Brita Hagi Hassan said on Wednesday after meeting French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault.

"In the name of humanity, in the name of international law, we demand that civilians be allowed to leave Aleppo and go where they want," he told reporters.

Civilians have poured out of the besieged rebel-held east, battered by airstrikes and heavy artillery fire by the advancing government forces.

According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, more than 300 civilians, including 33 children, have been killed in east Aleppo since the government assault began on 15 November, while another 48 civilians have been killed in west Aleppo

On Wednesday, at least 26 civilians including seven children were killed in government artillery fire on the Jubb al-Qubbeh district in east Aleppo, the Britain-based monitoring group said.

The White Helmets rescue group, which operates in rebel-held areas, published pictures of the attack's aftermath, showing an apocalyptic scene with bodies, pieces of flesh, and suitcases strewn across the street.

The Observatory says more than 50,000 people have fled Aleppo's rebel-held districts, including at least 20,000 to government-held territory and another 30,000 to Kurdish-controlled districts.

Many others have travelled south into the remaining territory held by rebels.

The UN has for months sought access to the east, but a plan it presented this month to deliver aid has yet to be approved by the government.

Agencies contributed to this report.

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