Forces supporting the Syrian government killed at least 82 civilians Monday during an attempt to retake the eastern neighborhoods of Aleppo, according to the United Nations. The city is close to falling under complete government control after four years of fighting, which would represent an enormous loss for the rebels currently fighting there.
The death toll reported in Eastern Aleppo includes 11 women and 13 children, some of whom were shot in the streets as they fled the fighting, said Rupert Colville, a spokesperson for the United Nations high commissioner for human rights. Colville also said that pro-government forces had entered homes and killed people they found inside.
By early Monday morning, Colville said, opposition groups inside the city were reported to hold just one third of a square mile, citing reports of streets filled with bodies that couldn’t be retrieved because of overwhelming violence. “Civilians have paid a brutal price during this conflict, and we are filled with the deepest foreboding for those who remain in this last hellish corner of opposition-held eastern Aleppo,” said Colville.
Jens Laerke, a spokesman for the United Nations office coordinating emergency relief, explained that 37,000 had fled eastern Aleppo, either to western areas or to the surrounding countryside. Another, 14,700 took refuge in shelters. Laerke described the events in Aleppo as “a complete meltdown of humanity.”
Jean-Marc Ayrault, the Foreign Minister of France, described the attacks as “coldblooded murders of entire families on the ground who were deemed close to the opposition; summary executions, including of women and children; people burned alive in their homes; the continuation of systematic targeting of hospitals, their staff and their patients.”
Some rebel fighters managed to escape from the battle, while others surrendered to pro-government forces. Many civilians still reside in areas formerly held by rebels, including opposition activists and civil defense lawyers who now risk detention, torture and death.
The International Committee of the Red Cross issued a call to put civilian lives ahead of military tactics. “We stand ready to oversee the implementation of any mutual agreement that puts civilians first,” said the group’s Syria director, Marianne Gasser, in a statement. “We cannot urge this strongly enough: This must happen now.”
The deterioration of rebel territory inside of Aleppo represents an enormous victory of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, and for Vladimir Putin, who has worked to keep Assad in power.