Aleppo exodus: How can 16,000 people be helped?

The United Nation's Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator said in a statement Tuesday that he was 'extremely concerned' about the fighting in Aleppo, as government and allied forces seek to take back the city from rebels.   

Syrians who evacuated the eastern districts of Aleppo ride a government bus in the city, Nov. 27, 2016. Humanitarian Chief Stephen O'Brien said Tuesday that 16,000 civilians have fled the eastern part of the city since the government and its allies went on an offensive this weekend.

As government and allied forces continue to advance on besieged eastern Aleppo, 16,000 Syrians have fled the opposition-held part of the city in recent days, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator Stephen O'Brien said Tuesday. 

Many of the civilians that have been displaced have fled to government and Kurdish-controlled zones. The UN estimates another 275,000 are trapped in the rebel-held part of the city, once the commerce and industrial center of Syria, but now reduced to ruins and cut off from the outside world.

Humanitarian aid has not reached the eastern part of the city since the government and its allies imposed a tight siege on it in July. These forces have increased their assault on rebel-held zones this weekend, as they attempt to retake the entire city. The New York Times characterized the most recent Syrian advance as a potential turning point in the conflict, perhaps a military and psychological victory for Assad. But the assault and displacement of thousands of civilians have also moved world and humanitarian leaders to seek a solution to help those fleeing the unrelenting violence.

France’s Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault called for an urgent UN Security Council meeting to try to stop the fighting in Aleppo and bring in humanitarian aid.

“More than ever, it is urgent to put in place a stop to hostilities and allow unhindered access to humanitarian aid,” said Mr. Ayrault.

Ayrault said he would meet Wednesday in Paris with the head of Aleppo’s district councils, Brita Haj Hassan. France has supported Syrian opposition groups resisting Assad and his allies, Russia, Iran, and Shiite militias.

Assad’s forces and allies advanced on the northern part of eastern Aleppo over the weekend in an effort to control all of the country’s five largest cities and the more-populous west, according to The New York Times. Troops and militiamen have retaken more than a third of the rebel-held eastern half of Aleppo since the weekend, according to the BBC.

To wrest back control of the city, the government and its allies have put into practice an approach that has worked for it in the old the city of Homs and several Damascus suburbs, as the Times reported.  

That strategy is "encircle a rebel-held area; bombard it with airstrikes, barrel bombs and artillery; hit not only rebels but medical clinics, schools and other civilian structures; and wait for exhausted residents to run away or make a deal."

In an emailed statement Tuesday, Mr. O’Brien at the UN described the damage in the rebel-held part of the city.

"There are no functioning hospitals left, and official food stocks are practically finished in eastern Aleppo," said O'Brien. "It is likely that thousands more will have no choice but to flee should fighting continue to spread and intensify over the coming days."

O’Brien added that the rebels have indiscriminately shelled civilian areas in government-controlled western Aleppo. He said these rebel bombings had killed and injured civilians and displaced more than 20,000 in recent weeks. 

In response, the Syrian Arab Red Crescent and local non-governmental organizations are helping the displaced. The UN was also prepared to deliver aid to rebel-held Aleppo and provide immediate and medical assistance to civilians there, he added.

The UN had previously tried to bring aid to the besieged parts of the city. In September, the United States and Russia brokered a temporary ceasefire there to allow needed food and medical supplies. From the get-go, the ceasefire teetered on the verge of collapse. An overwhelming majority of aid deliveries to parts of Syria in September were blocked or delayed, with none reaching Aleppo, according to The Guardian.

But some aid workers remain hopeful the international community will find a solution. Asked by The Christian Science Monitor if the world will become inured to the crisis, Zaher Sahloul, chair of the American Relief Coalition for Syria (ARCS), said in October the conflict will not be forgotten.

"This is not the Congo or Darfur or somewhere in Latin America; this is affecting us," he said in an interview at the Monitor's Boston office. "So, even if you don’t care on a humanitarian level, you have to care about the effect on Europe and the US."

This report contains material from the Associated Press and Reuters. 

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