UNITED NATIONS —
The United Nations aid chief has called on the Security Council to support establishing a weekly, 48-hour pause in fighting for the Syrian city of Aleppo, so that life-saving aid can reach 250,000 Syrians trapped behind the front lines.
“I cannot stress enough how critical the situation is for those trapped in eastern Aleppo city,” Stephen O’Brien told the Council on Monday. “This population is at serious risk of besiegement, as the fighting closes in and their access to basic necessities runs out.”
Earlier this month, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces, backed by their allies, seized al-Mallah farms — a northern district that sits above the city. That allowed them to shell Castello Road — the only route in and out of rebel-held areas in the divided city and the area’s lifeline.
Fears have grown for the safety and well-being of the more than a quarter million residents now trapped there.
O’Brien said the U.N. hopes to secure access through cross-line or cross-border operations, as authorized in several U.N. resolutions.
“The international community simply cannot let eastern Aleppo city become yet another — and by far the largest — besieged area,” he said. “The clock is ticking."
FILE - Stephen O'Brien, UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs talks during an interview at the World Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul, May 24, 2016.
Nearly all of the Security Council’s 15 members explicitly supported O’Brien’s call, and several urged Russia to use its influence with the Assad government to end the military’s grip on the city.
“Aleppo is burning,” U.S. Ambassador Samantha Power said. “Russia, the Assad regime and other groups fighting around Aleppo should heed the U.N.’s call for a weekly 48-hour pause to allow for deliveries of essential supplies,” she added.
“Aleppo has become the martyr city of Syria. It is besieged and could become the graveyard of the Vienna process,” France’s envoy François Delattre said.
He said there could be no lasting political solution as long as civilians continue to be massacred. “France cannot close its eyes to the tragedy taking place in Aleppo,” he said.
Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin said the Castello Road is being actively used to provide arms to terrorists and to allow “the passage of jihad mobiles with suicide bombers,” not for the provision of aid.
He appeared to dismiss the dire humanitarian situation, saying residents could “easily move by day” to the western part of the city where the situation is better. “Of course, however the situation might be in Aleppo, there is a need there to prevent a humanitarian disaster,” he conceded, but he did not openly call for establishing 48-hour humanitarian pauses.
The Russian and U.S. envoys exchanged several rounds of testy comments during the Council meeting, each blaming the other’s government for having a hand in the situation.
A boy stands at a site hit by a barrel bomb in the rebel-held area of Old Aleppo, Syria, July 11, 2016.
A nationwide cessation of hostilities that went into effect February 27 collapsed two months later. Since then, fighting has ramped up across the country as Syria — backed by Russia, Iran and the Lebanese militia Hezbollah — has intensified its military campaign to strengthen its position at the negotiating table.
O’Brien, the aid chief, said 5.5 million people need assistance in hard-to-reach and besieged parts of Syria. Nearly 600,000 of them are totally trapped in besieged areas.
On Tuesday, the U.N.’s Syria envoy, Staffan de Mistura, will meet with U.S. and Russian envoys to discuss how to move forward on the political process. He had hoped to start a new round of intra-Syrian talks this month, but the intensified fighting has dimmed expectations.