Syria forces have killed at least 82 civilians in east Aleppo: UN

Syrian pro-government forces patrolling Aleppo's eastern al-Salihin neighbourhood on Dec 12, 2016.
Syrian pro-government forces patrolling Aleppo's eastern al-Salihin neighbourhood on Dec 12, 2016. PHOTO: AFP

GENEVA (AFP) - Syrian pro-government forces have carried out at least 82 execution-style killings of civilians in Aleppo in recent days, including women and children, the UN said on Tuesday (Dec 13), citing what it called credible reports on the ground.

The UN human rights office said it had received reports of "pro-government forces killing at least 82 civilians including 11 women and 13 children in four different neighbourhoods" in the former rebel stronghold of eastern Aleppo, spokesman Rupert Colville told reporters in Geneva.

"We have also been informed that pro-government forces have been entering civilian homes and killing those individuals found inside," while other civilians have been detained, Colville added.

Asked to characterise the makeup of the forces reportedly carrying out the killings, Colville said: "It's a mixture. Syrian army and also militias."

The atrocities were committed in recent days, most likely in the last 48 hours, Colville said, adding that his office had the names of the victims.

"We hope, profoundly, that these reports are wrong, or exaggerated, as the situation is extremely fluid and it is very challenging to verify reports," the rights office added in a separate statement.

"However, they have been corroborated by multiple reliable sources."

Syrian troops are on the verge of recapturing all of Aleppo, which the rebels fighting against President Bashar al-Assad first claimed in 2012. The complete fall of eastern Aleppo into government hands would mark a major victory for Assad.

Some civilians "managed to flee" the fighting on Monday, but others "were reportedly caught and killed on the spot and others were arrested", the UN spokesman told reporters.

Late Monday, the UN "received further deeply disturbing reports that numerous bodies were lying in the streets but residents were unable to retrieve them due to the intense bombardment, and their fear of being shot on sight," the rights office statement said.

A spokesman for the UN's humanitarian agency (OCHA), Jens Laerke, told reporters that the UN did not have a reliable figure for the numbers of civilians still trapped in Aleppo's "contested neighbourhoods," but estimated that the number was in the thousands.

Colville said the UN was "filled with the deepest foreboding for those who remain in this last hellish corner of opposition-held eastern Aleppo."

He stressed that the screening by Syria's army of those who fled rebel-held territory "must itself be screened" by independent humanitarians to guard against further grave violations.