UN: Not just death, Mass hunger awaits civilians in Aleppo

UN: Not just death, Mass hunger awaits civilians in Aleppo

The United Nations humanitarian envoy for Syria today urged actions to stave off the threat of mass hunger in eastern Aleppo before the arrival of winter, which will be added to the daily massacres the 275.000 civilians face in  the besieged areas.

Assad regime, backed by Russia, said on September 22 it was starting a new wide offensive to recapture the rebel-held parts of Aleppo after a week-long ceasefire was declared officially over on 19 September.

Since 19 September, more than 800 civilians were killed and more than 2000 injured in rebel-held areas of Aleppo province, including the besieged eastern part of the city, Civil defense workers said.

There are about 275,000 people trapped by the siege of eastern Aleppo, where civilians are suffering through daily bombing, including by bunker-buster and incendiary weapons, and through starvation too, as limited supplies run out and aid convoys are blocked from the city.

Aid workers in eastern Aleppo were distributing the last available food rations on Thursday. The last time eastern Aleppo was reached with significant humanitarian supplies was the beginning of July, as a major aid convoy sent to 75.000 civilians in Aleppo was destroyed in September, and then the UN was blocked from delivering more aids.

“The fifth war winter is starting in Syria. There is no doubt it will be the worst in this cruel war, and I fear it will be a real killer in too many places,” Jan Egeland, Special Advisor to the UN Special Envoy for Syria, told reporters in Geneva.

“Some of the areas are freezing cold, horrible conditions, and people will be in need of digging themselves down in the ground in extreme cases,” he said, explaining that humanitarian convoys are being blocked physically or administratively from reaching them, or they cannot depart because of crossfire or insecurity.

On Thursday, Mr Egeland told journalists in Geneva that the UN’s humanitarian taskforce had received a report that the last remaining food rations were being handed out.

“[Food] prices are now skyrocketing on the market. We have reports of desperation for families and within communities,” he said.

He warned that the “terrible” situation in eastern Aleppo might be about to get “much, much worse”, with Russia saying it would soon resume air strikes after a three-week pause intended to allow civilians and rebels to be evacuated – an offer very few people took up.

Fear is increasing as Russia is moving an aircraft carrier to the coast of Syria, and threatening it will resume its air strikes on the rebels, the attack that will worsen the humanitarian situation even more.

A plan to deliver aids

Mr. Egeland said that the UN put forward a humanitarian initiative last week, which has been translated into Arabic and presented to the negotiating parties, including Russia, the Syrian Government and the armed opposition groups.

He said that the initiative calls for four actions to save the people in eastern Aleppo: distribution of medical supplies to the medical facilities; medical evacuations for the estimated 300 or so patients, together with their families; delivery of food and other urgent humanitarian relief supplies; and dispatch of more personnel to provide medical relief.

UN envoy seems optimistic when he talks about Assad regime’s approval and delivering aid to the people in need, while the regime’s policy relies on besieging them and killing them daily until they finally surrender and accept his role.

“The regime’s strategy is clear,” said Ibrahim Abbas, an opposition activist who was exiled to rebel-held Idlib province as a condition to receiving treatment for a war wound. “A suffocating siege to foment hatred (among residents) toward activists and fighters, then an offer to evacuate.”

The Assad regime registered its first success in May 2014, against the old city neighborhoods of Homs. After bombardment drove tens of thousands of civilians out in 2012, the Assad regime enforced a siege so tight that residents were digging up shrubs from the cemetery to eat and gunmen raided homes for food.

The districts gave up after 700 days. Fighters agreed to leave, and remaining residents accepted the Assad regime’s authority. Hundreds of men were also arrested.

One of the first areas to cast out the Assad regime’s security forces in 2012, Zabadani had been under siege for years when it came under a powerful assault by Assad regime troops and allied fighters from Lebanon’s Hezbollah in 2015. Most residents fled to nearby Madaya, although some 120 fighters are still besieged in the town center.

But Madaya, too, is under a crushing siege, enforced by snipers who pick off residents as they try to collect food from groves. Pro-regime forces burned vital farmland in June.

Hundreds of cases of malnitiriton were recorded in Madaya, as dozens starved to death in the city.

Al-Waer, the last opposition neighborhood in the central city of Homs has been also under siege for about three years, facing daily bombardment and blocking aids delivery or food to enter the area.

There were many agreements to end al-Waer’s siege and allow the civilians to retrieve their normal lives back, but as all of them failed the Assad regime mounted up its bombardment of the area aiming at forcing the opposition fighters to leave.

The Syrian crisis began as a peaceful demonstration against the injustice in Syria. Assad regime used to fire power and violence against the civilians and led to armed resistance. 450.000 Syrians lost their lives in the past five years according to UN estimates, and more than 12 million have lost their homes.