UNICEF calls for end to 'dire' situation in Aleppo

In This picture taken on Sunday, Oct. 2, 2016 and provided by UNICEF, UNICEF representative in Syria Hanaa Singer, center, visits a shelter for internally displaced Syrians in the western, government-held Aleppo, where thousands have been escaped violence that has beset Aleppo, some for up to six times in three years. The representative of the U.N. Children agency is calling for an immediate end to the violence that has beset the northern city of Aleppo, saying UN agencies are on "standby" to deliver needed assistance. (UNICEF via AP)

BEIRUT - UNICEF's representative in Syria called Saturday for an end to the violence that has beset northern Aleppo, causing "dire" humanitarian and psychological impacts on both sides of the divided city.

U.N. agencies are on "standby" to deliver needed assistance, Hanaa Singer of the U.N.'s children agency told The Associated Press.

With the key powers deeply divided, the U.N. Security Council on Saturday once again failed to agree on the course of action in war-ravaged Aleppo, and Syria in general. Russia vetoed a resolution drafted by France demanding an immediate halt to the bombing of Aleppo. A resolution put forward by Russia that called for a separation of moderate and extremist forces in Syria but making no mention of a bombing halt in Aleppo failed to get the minimum nine "yes" votes required for passage.

Also on Saturday, Syrian state media and a Syria monitoring group said pro-government troops advanced in a northern district of eastern Aleppo, wrestling control from rebel fighters in their latest push into the besieged area.

Singer said conditions in besieged Aleppo are "terribly dire," with hospitals hit, doctors overwhelmed, and over 100 children killed in bombings since Sept. 19. Conditions for thousands of displaced in the government-held part of the city are also deteriorating, with some of them being displaced for up to six times in the last three years, she said.

Singer returned earlier this week from a week-long trip to the government-held part of Aleppo where she was visiting thousands of displaced Syrians. Most are crammed in makeshift shelters, mosques, parks and churches after recently fleeing clashes on the frontline between rebels and pro-government forces. In one case, a mother so desperate from the continuous displacement, stabbed her baby girl thinking she will save her the misery of living on handouts and without a home, Singer said.

Describing the dramatic situation for thousands of families living in shelters in government-controlled Aleppo, Singer said: "These (are) the horrors in western Aleppo. God knows what is happening, (in the case of) mental health or the psychological situation on the eastern (rebel-held) side."

Western Aleppo, controlled by the government, is separated from eastern rebel-held Aleppo by a few meters, sometimes by a single plastic sheet or pockmarked building. An estimated 275,000 people are living in the rebel-held part of Aleppo, with no international aid reaching the area since the first week of July. Besides the scarce assistance, it is also difficult to assess the needs with the ever-evolving violent situation, and lack of access for international aid groups, she said.

"I think we all agree, and especially if you have been so close in the area there and seeing the dire situation in the west, hearing about the horrible situation in the east, all we need now is (for) the violence to stop," Singer said. "The violence has to stop and once the violence stops, the U.N., we absolutely stand ready. We are ready. We are actually on standby."

Singer says U.N. plans are in place for government-held Aleppo to accommodate residents that may evacuate the besieged part of the city if a cease-fire takes effect.

According to medical charity Doctors Without borders, hospitals in the eastern side of Syria's Aleppo have been attacked 23 times since July, damaging all eight facilities that have not yet been shuttered or destroyed. Since the U.S-Russian cease-fire broke down on Sept. 19, the situation in besieged Aleppo has immensely deteriorated under a relentless bombardment campaign. Water stations and civil defencecentres have also been hit, while over 320 people have been killed in eastern Aleppo in nearly three weeks of violence.

"In eastern Aleppo, the situation is terribly dire. Lots of schools and of hospitals have been hit we understand that there are only 30 doctors there. We have information that at least over 100 children have been killed. We hear that because of the lack of services and lack of health facilities that some children, that doctors can't cope with all the cases, and some children in dire situation are left to die," Singer said.

On Saturday, amid intensive air raids, pro-government forces seized the al-Awijeh district in northeastern rebel-controlled Aleppo, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. The Observatory also reported clashes on the southern edge of the rebel-held area. There was no immediate word on casualties.

Syrian State TV reported that government and allied troops took control of al-Awijeh, moving toward the Jandoul roundabout and getting closer to crowded residential areas in Aleppo's rebel-controlled eastern districts.

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