ALEPPO, Syria: The United Nation’s aid chief warned on Wednesday that Aleppo risked becoming a “giant graveyard” after more than 50,000 people were reported to have fled intense fighting between government and rebel forces.
As the Security Council held emergency talks on the fighting in New York, Syria’s opposition urged the UN to take immediate steps to protect civilians.
A government offensive to retake all of Aleppo has pounded the city in recent days, with shelling of an opposition-controlled area reported to have killed at least 26 civilians.
Artillery shells rained down on one southeastern rebel-held district.
The motionless body of a girl lay crumpled in the street, her arm severed and her head pierced by shrapnel. Rescue volunteers carried her body away on a motorcycle.
Speaking to the special Security Council session by video-link from London, Stephen O’Brien, the UN humanitarian chief, appealed for action to stop the fighting.
“For the sake of humanity we call on — we plead — with the parties and those with influence to do everything in their power to protect civilians and enable access to the besieged part of eastern Aleppo before it becomes one giant graveyard,” he said.
Civilians have poured out of the besieged rebel-held east, battered by air strikes and heavy artillery fire by the advancing forces of President Bashar al-Assad.
On a visit to Paris, a local council leader east Aleppo called Wednesday for safe passage for desperate civilians, warning the UN would be “signing the death warrant of 250,000 people” if it failed to act.
“Let the civilians leave, protect the civilians, put in place a safe corridor so they can leave,” Brita Hagi Hassan said after meeting French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault.
Government troops and allied fighters have seized around 40 percent of the rebel-held east of Aleppo since they began an operation to recapture all of the city just over a fortnight ago.
They now fully control the city’s northeast and pressed their offensive on Wednesday on Aleppo’s southeastern edges, advancing in the Sheikh Saeed district, according to state media.
The loss of Aleppo would be the biggest blow for Syria’s opposition since the conflict began in March 2011 with anti-government protests, before spiraling into a civil war.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a monitoring group, said on Wednesday that more than 50,000 people have fled Aleppo’s rebel-held districts, including at least 20,000 to government-held territory and another 30,000 to Kurdish-controlled districts.
Many others have traveled south into the remaining territory held by rebels.
Among them was Fawwaz al-Ashaari, 56, who left Sakhur district for a reception centre in government-held Jibrin, about 10 kilometres (six miles) north of Aleppo.
“I have lost my eldest son, my job, my house… The rest of my children only want to live in safety. They have seen death several times. I want them to know life,” he said.
The UN has for months sought access to the east, but a plan it presented this month to deliver aid has yet to be approved by the government.