The Assad regime forces and their allied militias are pushing deeper into east Aleppo as rebel lines collapsed and their last urban stronghold looks closer than ever to falling. Tens of thousands are being trapped in a small area, hunted by death and fear of unknown fate.
The Assad regime forces, backed by Russian air power, Iranian ground forces and Shi’ite militia fighters from Iran, Iraq, and Lebanon, has been tightening its grip on rebel-held districts of Aleppo since the start of this year.
They achieved their first goal in encircling the eastern parts of Aleppo in September, trapping more than 275.000 civilians under daily bombardment and preventing any aid from entering.
Since three weeks, they started a wide military operation to force control again over the rebel-held areas and were able to retrieve 85% of the region.
Civilians were directly affected by the operations as more than 1500 civilians died since September. Helicopters continue extensively dropping barrel bombs in conjunction with airstrikes by warplanes on areas in the eastern neighborhoods of the city, accompanied by artillery shelling.
Assad regime bombardment targeted the vital point in Aleppo, the hospitals, and civil defense centers. After heavy bombardment no hospitals were left in eastern Aleppo, adding a new suffer and making the victims’ numbers increase.
The complete absence of medical care, starvation forced by the siege and daily bombardment led hundreds of civilians to slow tragic death. The global powers condemned the offensive and asked to stop it, while not mentioning any real steps their countries are willing to do to make this happen.
— Ahmad Alkhatib (@AhmadAlkhtiib) December 12, 2016
“last moments before victory”
The Assad regime and its allies are in the “last moments before declaring victory” in Aleppo, a military source said.
“The battle in east Aleppo should end quickly. They [rebels] don’t have much time. They either have to surrender or die,” according to Lieutenant-General Zaid al-Saleh, head of the Aleppo security committee.
Rebels withdrew from at least six more east Aleppo neighbourhoods on Monday in the face of goverment advances, including al-Salheen, al-Firdous and Bustan al-Qasr, once one of the most fortified districts under opposition control.
Residents in the al-Firdous neighbourhood told Al Jazeera that government forces summarily executed dozens of people over alleged connections to rebel fighters. An exact figure could not be independently varified by Al Jazeera.
Syrian government forces seized Sheikh Saeed from rebels in overnight fighting as government warplanes continued to mount heavy air strikes on remaining rebel-held areas.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) said at least 60 people were killed by gunfire or shelling on Monday as government forces pushed into the Aleppo’s remaining opposition-held districts.
“The battle of Aleppo has reached its end. It is just a matter of a small period of time, no more, no less … it’s a total collapse,” said Rami Abdel Rahman, the SOHR’s director.
Syrian state TV reported that pro-government forces were in control of 99 percent of what once was opposition-held Aleppo.
The pro-government TV network Alikbariyah Syria broadcast footage of celebrations in the streets of west Aleppo, as people handed out chocolates and congratulated each other on “the victory”.
Aleppo resembled the contrary, people dying on one side, while others danced on the side on the calls of their suffer.
Tens of thousands of civilians have fled to government-held western Aleppo since the offensive began last month. But tens of thousands remain trapped in the ever-shrinking eastern enclave.
Salim Abu al-Nassar, a dentist from Bustan al-Qasr in east Aleppo, put out a video appeal on social media afer fleeing to al-Ansari neighbourhood, calling for a ceasefire and describing the dire conditions in the small portion of the city left in opposition control.
“Within eight kilometres square, we have over 80,000 human beings … everyone is piled on top of each other … This area may witness a real massacre if [the army] decides to move here,” he said.
“This may be my last call. I hope someone will listen somewhere around the world and relate that to their government so they can stop the shelling, the war, this madness. We hope to live. We love life. I hope we can meet again.”
+100,000 civilians are packed into a tiny area. Bombing + shelling relentless. Casualties unimaginable. Bodies lie where they fell.
— The White Helmets (@SyriaCivilDef) December 13, 2016
— HUDA (@99099HUDA) December 13, 2016
“People run from one shelling to another to escape death and just to save their souls … It’s doomsday in Aleppo, yes doomsday in Aleppo,” said Abu Amer Iqab, a former government employee in the Sukkari district in the heart of the rebel enclave.
Lina al-Shami, an architect and well-known social media activist from east Aleppo, also put out a “last message” on Twitter.
— Lina shamy (@Linashamy) December 12, 2016
A rebel fighter from inside Aleppo, speaking on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals, said the fall of Sheik Saeed means the fall of the enclave’s only mill and grains warehouse, which leaves the territory without access to bread or flour.
According to Ismail Abdullah of the Syrian Civil Defence – aka the White Helmets – the residents who remain in the city are civilians and fighters. “Most of them are families, and women and children. A lot of them are families of fighters, and the Free Syrian Army. And there are families of the opposition,” said Abdullah.
Abdullah, whose group performs search-and-rescue missions in the city, says space is running out for those in the area. “There’s no place for people to live. Many of the people are in sub-par housing … with no doors or windows,” he said.
And the situation appears to be getting worse for them. In addition to food shortages, reliance on limited gas for power, and intense fighting, the medical situation remains grave.
According to Doctors Without Borders (MSF), medical supplies are running extremely low in east Aleppo, and hospitals have been severely damaged from air strikes.
First responders such as Abdullah face hardships, too. “Most ambulances are also damaged or out of service and roads are totally blocked with rubble from the destruction, making movement very difficult for first responders, and putting at risk the severely wounded who often cannot access emergency care on time,” said Evita Mouawad, an adviser for MSF in neighbouring Jordan.
— Ahmad Alkhatib (@AhmadAlkhtiib) December 12, 2016
— Human Rights Watch (@hrw) December 13, 2016
Meanwhile, rebels in Aleppo continue to fight on, despite what appears to be an imminent government victory. “We cannot do anything to protect the civilians in the city. The regime has all kinds of weapons,” said Ahmad Jalal, a fighter in one of the armed groups.
“We all face the same fate. Every place in east Aleppo faces bombing and there’s no safe place at all.”
The fate of these civilians spells the abject failure of the west’s contradictory and piecemeal policies. It is a humiliation for the UN and the whole world who stood watching while Russia and Assad did all they can to give these civilians a suffering life and a tragic death.