ALEPPO, Syria — Top UN officials have separately described the Syrian regime’s brutal offensive against areas of the besieged northern city of Aleppo as “barbaric.”
Following the collapse of a short-lived, US-and Russia-brokered ceasefire, Syrian forces pounded rebel-held eastern Aleppo on Sunday, killing at least 85 people and wounding more than 300 others, an activist group reported.
At a UN Security Council crisis meeting Sunday, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said he was “appalled” by the military escalation in the beleaguered Syrian city and that the use of bunker-busting bombs “brings the violence to new depths of barbarity.”
Ban added that the airstrikes, incendiary weapons and bombs in densely populated areas may amount to war crimes.
Meanwhile, US Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power said that Russian support of Assad’s deadly offensive was “barbarism.”
“What Russia is sponsoring and doing is not counterterrorism, it is barbarism,” she told the Security Council.
“Instead of pursuing peace, Russia and Assad make war. Instead of helping get life-saving aid to civilians, Russia and Assad are bombing the humanitarian convoys, hospitals and first responders who are trying desperately to keep people alive.”
Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura echoed Ban’s comments, calling the recent days “chilling.” He said the “past week has been one of the worst ones in Syria during the near six years of this devastating conflict.”
On Sunday, Matthew Rycroft, British ambassador to the UN, staged a walk out at an emergency session of the UN Security Council along with his French and US counterparts to protest against the Syrian regime’s latest offensive in Aleppo.
Rycroft told the security council meeting that it was “difficult to deny” that the Syrian regime of President Bashar al- Assad and his Russian allies were engaged in committing war crimes.
“After five years of conflict, you might think that the regime has had its fill of barbarity — that its sick bloodlust against its own people has finally run its course,” he said.
“But this weekend, the regime and Russia have instead plunged to new depths and unleashed a new hell on Aleppo.”
‘This isn’t Pompeii’
As Aleppo was hammered by airstrikes, activists and aid workers posted dozens of pictures and videos online. Each of them heartbreaking, each of them helping to convey horror of the besieged city.
On Friday afternoon, a photo of a father and son who had fallen victim to the war emerged. Covered in blood and dust, the pressure of the rubble holding their final postures in place.
“This isn’t Pompeii, this is Aleppo,” one social media user wrote.
Russian envoy: US to blame
Russian Ambassador to the UN Vitaly Churkin said the US-led coalition’s support for rebels was hampering humanitarian efforts.
“The humanitarian situation in Aleppo could have been normalized in August but that was not done, it was not allowed because the armed groups prevented that,” he said.
UK Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said that Russia is guilty of protracting the Syrian war and making it “far more hideous.”
The bombardment destroyed residential centers and overwhelmed hospitals.
“Everyone in Aleppo is depressed,” an activist on the ground told CNN.
“They don’t know what they have done to become targets for warplanes. Fear is clear in the eyes of anyone you see walking the streets of Aleppo. Yesterday I saw a woman walking on the street and crying, no clear reason, just crying.”
Hundreds of airstrikes have pummeled the city, home to more than 250,000 people, since the Syrian government, backed by Russia, announced a renewed, “comprehensive” offensive Thursday.
Sunday’s death toll marked an increase in casualties, according to the Aleppo Media Center (AMC), an opposition-affiliated group of activists that works to document the conflict.
Wounded people are dying because health services are overstretched and providers don’t have the ability or capacity to treat them, the activist said. Due to a lack of supplies, hospitals are performing amputations to keep some people alive.
Only 20 doctors remain in eastern Aleppo, the activist added.
Syrian government troops and supporting militia on Saturday made their first major ground advance of the assault on Aleppo, seizing control of the Handarat Palestinian refugee camp on the city’s northeastern outskirts, while warplanes bombarded the east, according to the state-run Syrian Arab News Agency.
Rebels then launched a counter offensive to try to retake the area, according to the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
Syria’s military declared the ceasefire over last Monday, after a weekend strike by US-led coalition warplanes on a Syrian army post killed dozens of troops. The US military did not dispute the strike, but characterized it as “unintentional” and relayed its “regret” to Syria through Russia, saying the intended target had been ISIS.
Shortly after the ceasefire ended, a UN-Syrian Arab Red Crescent aid convoy was hit in an airstrike, killing about 20 people. US officials blamed Russia, while Moscow denied that Russian or Syrian warplanes were responsible.
On Monday the Syrian government began transferring around 350 people from the besieged rebel-held neighborhood of al-Waer in the city of Homs as part of a deal the regime calls “national reconciliation” but that the opposition has referred to as a “starve or surrender” policy.
According to the state-run SANA news agency, the transfer of 120 armed rebels and their families by bus from al-Waer to an area in the northwestern countryside of Homs province is the third phase of the deal which was struck with rebels in December.
The anti-regime activist group Homs Media Center said the number of armed men was 100.
The Homs Media Center reported on its Facebook page that “with this [evacuation] the negotiations committee of al-Waer neighborhood will have completed all its obligations under the agreement with the regime within this phase and we are waiting for the regime to reveal the fate of some 7,365 detainees and the release those who are still alive.”
“The agreement aims to evacuate all gunmen and remove weapons from al-Waer neighborhood in a step towards the return of all the state institutions to it,” SANA reported.
The governor of Homs, Talal Barazi, is quoted as saying that 41 gunmen from the neighborhood recently turned themselves into authorities and handed over their weapons to the regime as part of a government amnesty.
Another 123 rebel gunmen and their families were evacuated from al-Waer to rebel-held Idlib province last Thursday, according to state media.