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UN calls for immediate access to Aleppo

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world Updated: Dec 14, 2016 01:50 IST
AFP
United Nations

A man pushes a woman on a cart as they flee deeper with others into the remaining rebel-held areas of Aleppo, Syria December 13, 2016.(REUTERS Photo)

The United Nations is calling for immediate access to eastern Aleppo to confirm Russia’s announcement of the end of military operations and to monitor the evacuation of civilians and the withdrawal of opposition fighters.

The UN envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, told reporters Tuesday after an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council that armed groups are still estimated to control up to 5 sq. kilometers (1.9 sq. miles) in eastern Aleppo.

He says the UN’s main concern is the up to 50,000 civilians still believed to be in eastern Aleppo.

Read | ‘Get us out of here’: Desperate Aleppo citizens fear arrest, death as siege ends

He says an estimated 1,500 fighters are still there, about 30% of them from the al-Qaida linked Fatah al-Sham Front, previously known as the Nusra Front. De Mistura says such figures must be taken “very cautiously” because the UN isn’t there.

He says it isn’t clear whether the fighters are leaving with their weapons, which was an issue being discussed.

De Mistura said the UN is insisting that civilians who want to go with the fighters to rebel-held Idlib province be allowed to do so. He also expressed concern that Idlib could become the next target of the Syrian military.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urged Syria and its allies Russia and Iran to “urgently allow the remaining civilians to escape the area” and provide aid to those still in the city.

Syria has refused to allow UN officials in Aleppo to verify the situation but Ban said thousands of civilians were at risk.

Russia declares Aleppo offensive over

The Syrian military has stopped its operations in Aleppo in order to allow opposition fighters to leave and the government to establish full control over the city, Russia’s UN envoy said Tuesday.

An agreement was reached earlier Tuesday with Syria President Bashar al-Assad’s government on the evacuation of the fighters along with their families and some of the injured, Ambassador Vitaly Churkin told reporters.

“In the process of that, the military operations stopped. There is no need for military operations because they are leaving,” he said.

Read | ‘Aleppo battle over’: Civilians, rebels to evacuate as Syrian army takes control

“The bottom line is -- if everything is okay -- that means that the fighting around eastern Aleppo is over,” Churkin said following a Security Council meeting on the crisis in Syria’s second city.

The Russian ambassador told the council that the fighters “are currently going through agreed corridors, going in directions they have chosen themselves voluntarily including towards Idlib,” the rebel-controlled province.

“According to the latest information that we received in the last hour, military actions in eastern Aleppo are over, so there is no issue of some cessation of hostilities or some special humanitarian operation,” he said.

“The Syrian government has re-established control over eastern Aleppo.”

But several AFP journalists in the government-held quarter of Aleppo that was supposed to be evacuated said there was no sign of movement as of 2000 GMT.

Numerous empty buses that were to be used for the evacuation were still parked near the Salaheddin section of the city.

US wants observers in Aleppo

The council held an emergency meeting at the request of France and Britain following UN reports that Syrian forces had executed dozens of civilians during house-to-house searches.

US Ambassador Samantha Power called for international observers to be sent to Aleppo to “oversee the safe evacuation of the people who wish to leave but who, justifiably fear that if they try, they will be shot in the street or carted off to one of Assad’s gulags.”

Churkin rejected reports of atrocities, saying Russian officers had investigated the allegations on the ground.

“Not a single fact of ill-treatment, of violations of international humanitarian law against civilians of east Aleppo was discovered,” he said.

The United Nations is calling for immediate access to eastern Aleppo to confirm Russia’s announcement of the end of military operations and to monitor the evacuation of civilians and the withdrawal of opposition fighters.

The fall of Aleppo would be the worst rebel defeat since Syria’s conflict began in 2011, and leave the government in control of the country’s five major cities.

More than 300,000 people have been killed since the conflict began in March 2011, and over half the population has been displaced, with millions becoming refugees.

Moscow launched an air war in support of Assad’s forces last year, while Washington has supported rebel forces battling the regime.

Read more | Thousands flee Syria’s Aleppo as Assad nears victory