by Compiled from Wire Services
Dec 10, 2016 12:00 am
Hundreds of men remain missing more than a week after crossing into Syrian regime-held areas of Aleppo, the U.N. said on Friday. "We are gravely concerned about the safety of civilians in Aleppo - those who remain in opposition-controlled areas as well as those who have fled to areas under government control," said U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights spokesman, Rupert Colville.
Speaking in Geneva, Colville said people who remained in opposition-controlled districts were being squeezed into ever-shrinking areas, as regime forces and their allies continued their advance and concentrated their firepower in recent days.
"We believe there may currently be around 100,000 civilians in areas under the control of armed opposition groups in eastern Aleppo, with another 30,000 believed to have fled to areas under government control," he said. "We are also concerned about the approximately 500 medical cases involving people in need of urgent evacuation from opposition-held areas," Colville said.
"We have received very worrying allegations that hundreds of men have gone missing after crossing into government-controlled areas," the spokesman added.
Indicating that there are also approximately 150 activists inside opposition-controlled Aleppo who fear being detained by regime forces if they attempt to leave, Colville said: "Given the terrible record of arbitrary detention, torture and enforced disappearances by the Syrian government, we are of course deeply concerned about the fate of these individuals."
Despite temporary suspension of military operations in east Aleppo, Bashar Assad forces pressed an offensive in Aleppo on Friday with ground fighting and airstrikes in an operation to retake all of the city's besieged opposition-held east.
Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Thursday the Syrian army had halted military activity to let civilians leave opposition-held areas, RIA news agency reported. But there was no sign on the ground that fighting had slowed and after Lavrov's announcement, the army and its allies tried to advance on two fronts, a Turkey-based official with the Jabha Shamiya opposition group told Reuters.
Russia's air force and Iran-backed Shiite militias are also fighting in Aleppo on the Assad side. Opposition leaders have given no sign they are about to withdraw as the civilian population is squeezed into an ever-decreasing area. The Russian military said on Friday it had helped more than 8,000 Syrian citizens flee parts of eastern Aleppo still controlled by opposition forces in the last 24 hours, including almost 3,000 children. This could not be independently verified.
Pro-Assad forces have in the last two weeks driven opposition from most of their territory in what was once Syria's most populous city. The opposition groups have controlled the eastern section since 2012, and Assad said in an interview published on Thursday that retaking Aleppo would change the course of the civil war across the whole country.