Fears grow for trapped civilians in Aleppo

BEIRUT • The United Nations has called for an urgent humanitarian ceasefire in the Syrian city of Aleppo where, it said, two million residents have been left without access to running water or electricity after attacks hit civilian infrastructure last week.

Fears are growing for trapped civilians ahead of what is expected to be a major battle for Aleppo, Syria's second city and a focal point of the country's five-year civil war.

Rebel factions and President Bashar al-Assad's regime have sent hundreds of reinforcements to Aleppo, after opposition forces broke a government siege at the weekend and vowed to capture the entire city.

Hundreds of thousands of civilians remain inside the city, once Syria's main economic hub, and UN officials have sounded the alarm over trapped residents.

"The UN is extremely concerned that the consequences will be dire for millions of civilians if the electricity and water networks are not immediately repaired," said a statement from Mr Yacoub El Hillo, UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator for Syria, and Mr Kevin Kennedy, UN regional humanitarian coordinator for the Syria crisis.

The latest flare-up in fighting began in late June as government forces closed in on Castello Road, the last route into rebel-held parts of the city.

The road was severed in mid-July, beginning a roughly three-week siege of eastern districts until opposition fighters broke through regime territory last Saturday.

The push saw a coalition of rebels and militants cut off the regime's own main access road on the southern edges of the city.

Emboldened by their win, the rebel alliance on Sunday announced an ambitious bid to capture all of Aleppo city, which if successful would mark the biggest opposition victory yet in Syria's conflict.

One rebel commander, Yasser Abdulrahim, who leads a joint operations room for the fighters in the city, said preparations were under way. "The big battle has not started yet," Abdulrahim said.

He said clashes were taking place in the southern suburbs of Aleppo, in the key district of Ramussa and a collection of military academies.

"Most of the clashes in Ramussa are taking place against Hizbollah and Iranian fighters," he said.

A military source in Damascus said regime forces had moved within firing range of the academy complex, where rebel forces broke though government lines last Saturday.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights has confirmed clashes in Ramussa and said air raids on a rebel-held district of Aleppo killed three civilians yesterday.

REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 10, 2016, with the headline 'Fears grow for trapped civilians in Aleppo'. Print Edition | Subscribe