UN: Pro-Assad forces sweep through rebel-held Aleppo

Dozens of civilians have been executed, reports say.

BEIRUT — Dozens of people were executed by Syrian government loyalists sweeping through the remaining opposition-held districts of Aleppo, where rebels are battling for survival after being pushed into a last sliver of territory, the United Nations said Tuesday.

Rupert Colville, a spokesman for the U.N. human rights council, said his office in Geneva received reports that pro-government forces had killed at least 82 civilians, entering homes and killing people “on the spot.”

Others were reportedly shot as they fled. A list of names provided to the U.N. included 11 women and 13 children, he said.

The reports of civilian executions and apparent house-by-house rampages by Syrian forces reflected the chaos gripping the strategic northern city as Syrian forces and allies – including Iranian-backed militias – have steadily pushed rebels into a corner over the past week.

“A complete meltdown of humanity in Aleppo,” said Jens Laerke, the U.N. humanitarian spokesman, citing reports from a Syrian volunteer relief group known as the White Helmets.

“It’s hell,” added Laerke.

A full rebel defeat in Aleppo would be a significant blow to factions that have fought the government of Syrian President Bashar Assad in the more than five-year conflict. Aleppo’s fall would not likely end the fighting in Syria, but it would hand a major battlefield prize to Assad and his backers, including Russian military forces that have come to his aid.

International aid agencies urged government forces to refrain from acts of revenge against people who either escape rebel-held areas or are captured there.

“Thousands of civilians lives are in danger as front lines close in around them,” said a statement from the International Committee of the Red Cross.

A deepening humanitarian catastrophe and further loss of life can be averted only if the basic rules of warfare – and of humanity – are applied.”

When rebel forces seized Aleppo’s eastern districts in 2012, they envisaged the area as a seat of power to rival the capital, Damascus. Its loss, now inevitable, will deal a crushing blow from which the armed groups will be unable to recover.

Almost a month after pro-Assad troops launched a final push to take back the city, the rebels’ collapse came swiftly. By late afternoon Monday, their final districts were falling like dominoes, sparking jubilation in the streets of some government-held areas.

Rebel forces have regularly shelled west Aleppo, and the presence of an al-Qaida-linked group in Syria’s armed rebellion has led many government supporters to view all militants as terrorists.

Thousands of civilians have escaped the last handful of neighborhoods still controlled by the rebels. In fierce fighting overnight, the remaining rebels managed to stave off further government advances.

Syrian state television showed thousands of people streaming into the government-held part of the city clutching possessions and bags.

But when the sun rose Tuesday, the fighting appeared to have slowed as rain and thunderstorms made it difficult for warplanes to fly.

In a video posted to the livestreaming site Periscope, Abdulkafi al-Hamdo, an English teacher, addressed viewers from an empty street. “Now it is raining. Bombs a little bit calmer,” he said. “We wanted freedom. We didn’t want anything else but freedom. You know, this world doesn’t like freedom it seems.”

Thousands more were still trapped in the rebel held areas, refusing to leave because they fear for their safety at the hands of government troops, said Zouhir al-Shimale, an activist who is still living under rebel control.

“We’re in a very tiny area and there are so many families stuck here,” he said. “Either they can’t leave because they are wanted by the government or they don’t want to leave because this is their home.”

Friends who escaped to the east have told him that men who leave are being separated from the others who are fleeing and taken to serve in the depleted Syrian army, one of the reasons he is not leaving the enclave.

In Berlin, French President Francois Hollande repeated Western appeals for Russia to help create a humanitarian aid for civilians trapped in Aleppo.

Hollande, after meeting German Chancellor Angela Merkel, said Aleppo’s “humanitarian situation … is unacceptable.”

The Washington Post’s Brian Murphy in Washington contributed to this report.


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