The United Nations implored all sides in the Syria conflict on Thursday to allow food deliveries to rebel-held eastern Aleppo, where roughly 250,000 residents, under siege for months, just received their last rations.
Russia appeared to reject the plea.
“I don’t think anybody wants a quarter of a million people to be starving in east Aleppo,” Jan Egeland, the United Nations official in charge of a humanitarian task force for Syria, told reporters at the organization’s Geneva headquarters.
Food supplies have not been replenished in eastern Aleppo since mid-July, Mr. Egeland said. “The last food rations are being distributed as we speak,” he said. “There will not be more to distribute next week.”
The divided city of Aleppo has become a prime battleground in the war pitting an alliance of Western-backed rebel groups and jihadist fighters against the forces of President Bashar al-Assad of Syria and his foreign supporters, Russia and Iran.
The government-held western side of the city looks surprisingly normal, foreign journalists recently taken on a government-chaperoned visit reported.
The eastern side, controlled by the insurgency, has been heavily damaged by airstrikes from Syrian and Russian warplanes, with hundreds of casualties, including many children. Civilians have been killed on the western side as well, from shelling by insurgents.
Mr. Egeland said that with another winter of war looming in Syria, emergency relief to besieged civilians was critical to survival. “It is a horrendous situation,” he said.
His plea to halt the fighting so that food could be delivered to eastern Aleppo did not appear to persuade the Russia Defense Ministry.
A ministry spokesman, Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov, said in a statement from Moscow that such a pause would be “counterproductive and against common sense” and that militants ensconced in eastern Aleppo would exploit food deliveries to “better restore their battleworthiness.”
The Russian military has decreed a few unilateral pauses in the siege since mid-October, calling them gestures to give fighters and civilians an opportunity to leave and avoid “senseless loss of life.”
In recent days, Russia has been threatening an all-out assault on districts in eastern Aleppo after an ultimatum expired last Friday, which the Russian military called the final opportunity for rebels and civilians to leave the east and choose between “returning to the lap of the government” or boarding buses to other rebel-held areas.
Nobody from eastern Aleppo accepted the Russian offer.
The Syrian government says rebels are preventing civilians from leaving. Rebels say they are refusing any evacuation without a broader deal to deliver humanitarian aid and international supervision.
Instead, they have been trying to break the siege, with militant groups linked to Al Qaeda collaborating with rebels supported by the United States.
Anxiety has been running high on both sides of Aleppo, residents have reported, with people in the west fleeing shelling and people in the east fearing airstrikes more devastating than any they have faced.
Russian forces have been assisting Mr. Assad for over a year. They have also used the opportunity to significantly strengthen their military presence not only in Syria but in the Mediterranean, where the Admiral Kuznetsov, a Russian aircraft carrier, and other warships have been deployed off the Syrian coast.
(via NY Times)