UN: Syria pro-regime forces executed 82 civilians in Aleppo
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UN: Syria pro-regime forces executed 82 civilians in Aleppo

Human rights office cites reports of government-backed units entering homes in rebel areas and slaughtering people ‘on the spot’

Photo released by the Syrian official news agency SANA, shows Syrian troops march through the streets of east Aleppo, Syria, December 12, 2016. (SANA via AP)
Photo released by the Syrian official news agency SANA, shows Syrian troops march through the streets of east Aleppo, Syria, December 12, 2016. (SANA via AP)

Syria’s pro-government forces killed at least 82 civilians as they entered the last remaining strongholds of the rebels in eastern Aleppo, the UN human rights office said Tuesday, citing reports.

Spokesman Rupert Colville of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights said the reports recounted pro-government forces entering homes and killing some civilians “on the spot” in the former rebel stronghold.

Colville, who spoke to reporters in Geneva, said 11 women and 13 children were among those reportedly killed in four neighborhoods of the increasingly shrinking rebel enclave in the city.

Colville said the reports came in late the previous evening and that he doesn’t know exactly when the killings took place.

The International Committee of the Red Cross urged those fighting in Aleppo to do all they can to protect and spare civilian lives, saying in a statement Tuesday that thousands of people with no part in the violence “have literally nowhere safe to run.”

The dramatic appeal came a day after the Syrian military announced it now holds 99 percent of the former rebel neighborhoods of Aleppo, signaling an impending end to the rebels’ four-year hold over parts of the city as the final hours of the battle play out.

“In order for this to happen, we appeal to the parties to put humanity ahead of military objectives,” said ICRC’s head of delegation in Syria, Marianne Gasser, who is currently in Aleppo. “We stand ready to oversee the implementation of any mutual agreement that puts civilians first. We cannot urge this strongly enough: this must happen.”

Photo released by the International Committee for the Red Cross (ICRC) shows Syrians who were displaced with their families from eastern Aleppo gathering at a collective shelter, in the village of Jibreen south of Aleppo, Syria, December. 12, 2016. (ICRC via AP)
Photo released by the International Committee for the Red Cross (ICRC) shows Syrians who were displaced with their families from eastern Aleppo gathering at a collective shelter, in the village of Jibreen south of Aleppo, Syria, December. 12, 2016. (ICRC via AP)

Retaking Aleppo, which has been divided between rebel- and government-controlled zones since 2012, would be President Bashar Assad’s biggest victory yet in the country’s civil war. The city has long been regarded as a major gateway between Turkey and Syria.

But a government win in Aleppo does not end the conflict — significant parts of Syria are still outside government control and huge swaths of the country are a devastated wasteland. More than a quarter of a million people have been killed.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in a statement late Monday that he is alarmed over reports of atrocities against a large number of civilians, including women and children, in the previous hours in Aleppo. While stressing that the United Nations is not able to independently verify these reports, the UN chief said he conveyed his grave concern to the relevant parties.

Ban also said the UN underlines the obligation of all parties on the ground to protect civilians and abide by international humanitarian and human rights law, adding that “this is particularly the responsibility of the Syrian government and its allies.”

In Moscow, which has been Assad’s major ally in the war, the Defense Ministry said Tuesday that Syrian forces now control “more than 98 percent” of Aleppo and the rebels are holding out a neighborhood roughly the size of three square kilometers (1.16 square miles).

Several Syrian opposition activists claimed government forces were carrying out summary killings of rebels in the streets in neighborhoods captured on Monday, but the Syrian military denied the claims, saying such allegations were “a desperate attempt” to gain international sympathy.

Turkey’s Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmus’ called for an immediate ceasefire and if that is too late, he called on the international community, European countries, regional countries and Turkey to organize an international aid convoy to people in need in Aleppo.

On Monday, staff members of the last remaining clinic in rebel-held territory in Aleppo huddled in a shelter as Syrian government forces pushed in. “Those killed and wounded are left on the streets,” said the clinic’s administrator, Mohammed Abu Rajab.

“The collapse is terrifying,” said Bassam Haj Mustafa, a rebel spokesman in contact with fighters in the city. Opposition fighters were “doing their best to defend what is left,” he added.

Rami Abdurrahman, who heads the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said more than 60 civilians and fighters were killed in rebel-held neighborhoods of Aleppo on Monday alone.

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