The United Nations said yesterday it had reports that Syrian soldiers and allied Iraqi fighters had summarily shot dead 82 children, women and men in recaptured east Aleppo and a military source said the last rebel pocket could fall “at any moment”.
The Syrian army has denied carrying out killings or torture among those captured, and its main ally Russia said yesterday rebels had “kept over 100,000 people as human shields”.
The rout of rebels from their ever-shrinking territory in Aleppo has sparked a mass flight of civilians and insurgents in bitter weather, a crisis the United Nations said was a “complete meltdown of humanity”.
Hopes for a last-ditch deal to end the fighting by withdrawing fighters also seemed in doubt, with Moscow rejecting calls for an immediate ceasefire as concern grew over the fate of civilians.
“The reports we had are of people being shot in the street trying to flee and shot in their homes,” said Rupert Colville, spokesman for the UN office.
“There could be many more.”
France said it had called for an immediate UN Security Council meeting over the alleged atrocities to focus on possible war crimes and crimes against humanity.
Behind those fleeing was a wasteland of flattened buildings, concrete rubble and bullet-pocked walls, where tens of thousands had lived until recent days under intense bombardment even after medical and rescue services had collapsed.
Colville said the rebel-held area was “a hellish corner” of less than a square kilometre, adding its capture was imminent.
The Syrian army and its allies could declare victory at any moment, a Syrian military source said, predicting the final fall of the rebel enclave today, after opposition defences collapsed on Monday.
Turkish and Russian officials will meet today to examine a possible ceasefire and opening a corridor, a senior Turkish official, who declined to be identified, told Reuters.
But Moscow, the Syrian government’s most powerful ally, rejected any immediate call for a ceasefire.
“The Russian side wants to do that only when the corridors are established,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said yesterday.
The spokesman for the civil defence force in the former rebel area of Aleppo reckoned rebels controlled an area of less than 3 sq km.
“The situation is very, very bad. The civil defence has stopped operating in the city,” he told Reuters.
A surrender or withdrawal of the rebels from Aleppo would mean the end of the rebellion in the city, Syria’s largest until the outbreak of war after mass protests in 2011, but it is unclear if such a deal can be struck by world powers.
By finally dousing the last embers of resistance burning in Aleppo, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s military coalition of the army, Russian air power and Iran-backed militias will have delivered him his biggest battlefield victory of the war.
However, while the rebels, including groups backed by the United States, as well as militant groups that the West does not support, will suffer a crushing defeat in Aleppo, the war will be far from over.
“The crushing of Aleppo, the immeasurably terrifying toll on its people, the bloodshed, the wanton slaughter of men, women and children, the destruction - and we are nowhere near the end of this cruel conflict,” UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein said in a statement.
Aleppo’s loss will leave the rebels without a significant presence in any of Syria’s main cities, but they still hold much of the countryside west of Aleppo and the province of Idlib, also in northwest Syria.
Islamic State also has a big presence in Syria and has advanced in recent days, taking the desert city of Palmyra.
The army and its allies were advancing towards the Sukkari, Tel al-Zarazir and parts of Seif al-Dawla and al-Amariya districts, the Syrian military source said.
“When the army regains control of these areas, its operation in the eastern areas of the city will have finished”.
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