Civilian executions reported as Aleppo battle nears end

Syrian pro-government forces patrolling Aleppo's eastern al-Salihin neighbourhood on Monday, after troops retook the area from rebel fighters. Retaking control of the entire city will be a huge victory for President Assad and leave his regime in cont
Syrian pro-government forces patrolling Aleppo's eastern al-Salihin neighbourhood on Monday, after troops retook the area from rebel fighters. Retaking control of the entire city will be a huge victory for President Assad and leave his regime in control of all five of Syria's main cities.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

UN says women and children among at least 82 people killed by pro-government forces

BEIRUT • The United Nations yesterday said it had credible reports of pro-government forces in Syria's Aleppo executing dozens of civilians, including women and children, as the crucial battle for the city neared its end.

The UN human rights office said at least 82 civilians, including 11 women and 13 children, had been killed in recent days.

Mr Rupert Colville, the UN rights office spokesman, told reporters in Geneva the killings had taken place in four neighbourhoods of east Aleppo "most likely" in the last 48 hours.

"We have also been informed that pro-government forces have been entering civilian homes and killing those individuals found inside," he said.

Some civilians trying to flee the fighting "were reportedly caught and killed on the spot and others were arrested", he said.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which has for years monitored the conflict in Syria, was unable to confirm the reports of civilian executions.

 
 
 
 

The accusations came as President Bashar al-Assad's forces stood poised to overrun the last pocket of rebel territory in east Aleppo, dealing the biggest blow to opposition fighters in more than five years of civil war.

In Aleppo overnight, government supporters fired rounds of celebratory gunfire in the air and a military source told Agence France-Presse: "We're living the final moments before victory."

Meanwhile, residents in remaining rebel territory spoke of their fears of capture by government troops and allied forces.

Mr Ibrahim Abu al-Leith, a spokesman for the White Helmets rescue service operating in opposition areas, said regime forces were only 200m from his position in a rebel- held neighbourhood. "Our fate is sealed. Why would we hide, it won't do us any good. We will either die or be captured," he said.

Other witnesses have described scenes of carnage in rebel areas, with bodies lying amid the rubble as desperate residents sat on pavements with no shelter in sight.

Mr Jan Egeland, head of the UN-backed humanitarian taskforce for Syria, said the Assad regime and its ally Moscow would be responsible for any atrocities carried out by militia forces allied with government troops.

He also called for an urgent ceasefire "to let us evacuate wounded and other vulnerable groups from Aleppo's rubble".

Syria's army has taken more than 90 per cent of the territory once held by rebel fighters in east Aleppo, after launching an all-out offensive last month.

Aleppo, a cultural and economic hub in northern Syria second only to Damascus in importance, had been split between a rebel-controlled east and government-held west since 2012.

Retaking control of the entire city will be a huge victory for Mr Assad and leave his regime in control of all five of Syria's main cities.

As of early yesterday, rebel fighters were reported to be confined to just a handful of neighbourhoods, including Mashhad and Sukkari.

Russia is a key Assad ally and launched an air war in support of his forces last year, while the US and other Western nations have backed rebel forces.

Turkey, which has also backed rebel forces in Syria, yesterday said it would intensify talks with Russia on a ceasefire.

More than 300,000 people have been killed since the Syrian conflict began in March 2011, and over half the population has been displaced, with millions becoming refugees.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 14, 2016, with the headline 'Civilian executions reported as Aleppo battle nears end'. Print Edition | Subscribe