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In War-Torn Aleppo, Everything Must Be Done to Protect Civilians

Tens of thousands of people have fled their homes in eastern Aleppo this week as pro-government forces advance, putting additional pressure on western Aleppo shelters. The ICRC calls on all sides in the conflict to make civilian protection a priority.

Written by The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) Published on Read time Approx. 2 minutes
Syrian residents of eastern rebel-held parts of Aleppo walk through the Kadi Askar district as they leave their homes for a safer place in a different rebel-controlled area on November 30, 2016, during a Syrian army offensive against the eastern sectors of the divided city.AFP/THAER MOHAMMED

DAMASCUS – The International Committee of the Red Cross’s head in Syria has appealed to all sides fighting in Aleppo to do everything they can to protect the civilian population. Since the escalation in violence in eastern Aleppo over the past few days, at least 30,000 people have fled to the west of the city, while countless others are expected to have escaped in other directions. The numbers are likely to rise, possibly by tens of thousands.

“The people who are fleeing take a lot of risks. There is shelling, there are explosions and sniper fire. People have left behind virtually everything,” said Marianne Gasser, speaking in Aleppo.

“They must be guaranteed protection and safe passage. We appeal to all sides to ensure this. We at the ICRC are ready to help, but it’s up to those who are involved in the fighting to protect civilians,” the Swiss-born mission head added.

The ICRC and Syrian Arab Red Crescent (SARC) were granted access to Masaken Hanano, one of the districts in east Aleppo, so they could assess the living conditions for people who decide to come back once it will be possible. Hanano was previously under siege and has been retaken by government forces following heavy fighting.

“The place is deserted and there is immense destruction all along the road. Aleppo city and the southeast rural areas have already received thousands of displaced people. More people continue to arrive from the east. In a bad, very bad state. People’s main wish is to return to their houses,” said Gasser.

People who managed to escape either left on foot for the government-held areas in the west or crossed further north to Sheikh Maqsood and surrounding areas. Most of them came from the Hanano area, Haydaryee, Inzarat, Beedeen, Sakhour, Shaar, Katrji, Jabal Badro and other parts of eastern Aleppo. They were then transported by the authorities to two collective shelters of Jibreen and Mahalej where the SARC, ICRC and other local organizations have been responding with basic humanitarian aid.

The SARC dispatched mobile medical teams to treat the sick, injured and malnourished. The teams work 12 hours a day and since Nov. 27 have treated more than 2,500 people. Because the shelters lack basic amenities, the ICRC and SARC installed emergency water tanks and sanitation facilities, and provided food, blankets and mattresses. As the situation evolves, the organizations are stepping up their response to deal with new arrivals.

“We saw buses arriving with people – more and more people. Hundreds were arriving every hour while we were there. Conditions are very difficult. People are in shock. They’re tired and cold, many of them are still covered in dust and need medical help. It’s heartbreaking,” said Gasser.

“It’s all very basic. First of all, we need to ensure dignified conditions for these people. One of the shelters is a cotton factory – a huge hangar where some 15,000 people will expect to be accommodated.”

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Syria Deeply.

This article was originally published by the ICRC and is reprinted here with permission.

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