UNITED NATIONS – About 25,000 people, including more than 12,000 children, have been displaced from a neighborhood in western Aleppo, a Syian city, by intense military attacks initiated by armed opposition groups, a United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) official said on Monday, while calling on the warring parties to do their utmost to protect civilians.
“Twenty-five thousand people fled instantly last night from this area, with whatever they could leave the door with,” Kieran Dwyer, Chief of Communications for UNICEF in Syria, told reporters via Skype from Damascus.
He said that armed opposition groups had launched a major military offensive late yesterday afternoon and evening, attacking through the densely populated western part of Aleppo City. Intense fighting, involving airstrikes and the use of heavy weapons, artillery and mortars, had continued through the night, and even throughout the day today, he added.
Dwyer said that in the affected neighborhood, people already displaced multiple times had put up temporary shelters in under-construction high-rise apartments.
UNICEF and its partners had been helping them to obtain water, food, health services, and education so that they could settle for the time being.
Then, the fighting erupted, forcing many of them flee to parks, mosques, and wherever “they can feel a bit safe,” he said, adding that emergency kitchens had been set up, and for its part, UNICEF was also running emergency water trucks.
Asked if more people would be displaced, he said: “We don’t know what the dynamic in fighting is going to result in. We are watching and responding at every turn.”
Meanwhile, the eastern part of Aleppo city has been completely cut off from humanitarian aid since early July, he said, noting that UNICEF and all partners had been calling for immediate access to the area, where 300,000 people, including over 120,000 children, are in need of nutrition, food, clean water, and health services.
The health system in Aleppo has been devastated, with four military attacks on hospitals last week alone, noted Mr. Dwyer, warning that with only 30 doctors left to serve 300,000, the situation in eastern Aleppo was “dire.”
Regarding the idea of setting up “humanitarian corridors” that would allow aid to be delivered without hindrance, and civilians to flee the besieged areas safely, Mr. Dwyer said that such arrangements must be run by the UN humanitarian team and partners.
If civilians decide to leave, they must be protected at every step, and if they decide to stay, they should be protected from attacks and violence, he added.
In New York today, Farhan Haq, the Secretary-General’s Deputy Spokesperson, reiterated the UN’s calls to all parties in the conflict for allowing safe, unimpeded and impartial humanitarian access in line with international humanitarian law.
The UN remains deeply concerned over the plight of people trapped in Aleppo, as reports indicate that intense fighting has continued over the last few days, and that many stores had closed due to food shortage, the spokesperson said.
Meanwhile, he added, an inter-agency convoy delivered food, nutrition, health, water, sanitation, hygiene and other emergency items, enough for 71,000 people in need, to the hard-to-reach area of Al Houla, in the Homs governorate yesterday.
Surgical items were removed from health kits during the loading.
Haq also said that the UN Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura visited Tehran on Sunday, and held discussions with Iranian Assistant Foreign Minister Hossein Jaberi Ansari on the means of pushing forward a political settlement to the crisis in Syria.
Also, on Sunday, Deputy Special Envoy Ramzy Ezzeldin Ramzy met with Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Muallem and Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad, the spokesperson said, explaining that the meeting was part of regular, ongoing consultations between the Special Envoy’s Office and the Syrian Government.
Ramzy informed Syria’s Foreign Minister of the Special Envoy’s intention to reconvene the intra-Syrian talks towards the end of August, with a focus on the political transition, according to the UN spokesperson.