Aleppo’s residents squeezed out by fight

By Zeina Karam and Philip Issa Associated Press

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An image from video provided by the Aleppo News Network shows smoke rising following an airstrike that hit insurgents’ positions in eastern neighborhoods of Aleppo, Syria, on Friday.

 

BEIRUT — Nearly two weeks into a crushing blitz, Syrian forces and their allies have taken control of nearly all of what was once an opposition stronghold in eastern Aleppo, touching off a new wave of evacuations Friday and raising concerns about hundreds of men who have disappeared and are feared to have been seized by the government.

A flood of civilians streamed out on foot in the wake of the relentless campaign by forces loyal to President Bashar Assad to drive rebels from their rapidly crumbling enclave.

They joined tens of thousands who have fled since Nov. 26, seeking shelter from the nonstop bombardment and crippling siege.

“The writing on the wall looks as if eastern Aleppo’s battle is virtually over,” said Staffan de Mistura, the U.N. special envoy to Syria, in an interview with The Associated Press at U.N. headquarters.

The U.N. human rights office expressed deep concern about reports that hundreds of men have vanished after crossing from eastern Aleppo into government-controlled areas.

Relatives reported losing contact with the men, who are between the ages of 30 and 50, after they fled opposition-held areas about a week to 10 days ago, said U.N. spokesman Rupert Colville. It was not clear whether they were fighters or civilians.

Colville also said the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights is also concerned by reports that some civilians trying to flee are being blocked by armed opposition groups and, in some cases, fired upon.

“Civilians are being used as pawns and prevented from leaving,” he said at a briefing in Geneva. He estimated there may be about 100,000 civilians in areas under the control of armed opposition groups. They include about 500 medical cases of people in need of urgent evacuation.

Syrian state TV broadcast video of families emerging from the ravaged eastern districts, the enclave that had been held by rebels since 2012.

Government-owned al-Ikhbariya TV showed civilians on foot and at least one bus snaking through the Ballour crossing, saying they came from the Saleheen, Fardous and Sheikh Saeed neighborhoods in the southern part of eastern Aleppo.

On Thursday, Russia announced the Syrian army was suspending combat operations to allow for civilians to leave besieged rebel-held districts, but residents and medics in the neighborhoods said there was no letup in the bombardment.

“Bombing is truly round the clock,” said Ziad Mohammed, a lawyer and father of three, who is still in the al-Mashhad neighborhood. “There are no hospitals, the remnants of the dead fill the streets and the wounded have to fend for themselves.”

Source: Denton Record Chronicle