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‘Horror is now usual’ in Syria where nearly one million people live under siege

In the past six months, the number of people living under siege in Syria has doubled. Today there are almost one million Syrians being “isolated, starved, bombed and denied medical attention and humanitarian assistance.”

The latest figures from the UN come a week after deadly airstrikes by government forces on rebel-held eastern Aleppo resumed. Since then, hundreds of civilians have been killed.

“Horror is now usual” — this is how the UN’s under-secretary general for humanitarian affairs and emergency relief coordinator Stephen O’Brien described life in Syria today during an emotional address to the UN Security Council on Monday.


“Month after month I have reported to this Council that the level of depravity inflicted upon the Syrian people cannot sink lower, only to return the following month with hideous and, with shocking disbelief, new reports of ever-worsening human suffering,” O’Brien said.

A year ago, the number of people living under siege was 393,700. Six months ago that figure had increased to 486,700 but today the UN estimates that the total is 974,080. “There is nothing subtle or complicated about the practice of besiegement,” O’Brien said. “Civilians are being isolated, starved, bombed and denied medical attention and humanitarian assistance in order to force them to submit or flee.”

The UN believes there to be 275,000 people under siege in eastern Aleppo alone, with new locations in the rebel-held Damascus suburbs of Jobar, Hajar al-Aswad and Khan al-Shih also affected, as well as several areas in Ghouta – a region just outside the capital.

In Aleppo, humanitarian aid deliveries were last made in July and O’Brien said the remains of those rations were handed out on November 13. He also warned that without food, fuel and access to medicine, the people in eastern Aleppo will “face a harsh winter without heating or the bare essentials for life.”

O’Brien pleaded with the Security Council to back resolutions to end the sieges, allow humanitarian aid to be delivered and end the attacks on civilians. Just as with previous briefings, these pleas will likely fall on deaf ears.

The Security Council has so far failed to find any workable solution to the five year Syrian conflict. The main problem is that the Syrian regime is supported by Russia, which, back by China, has vetoed any resolutions made by the Council to date.

The U.S. sought to put pressure on the council by naming and shaming 13 Syrian commanders who it says are responsible for the deaths and torture of civilians since the war began in 2011. “The United States will not let those who have commanded units involved in these actions hide anonymously behind the facade of the Assad regime,” U.S. Ambassador to the UN Samantha Power told the council on Monday.

The move to name the commanders could be seen as laying the groundwork for future war crime prosecutions, though a previous attempt by the Security Council to get the situation in Syria referred to the International Criminal Court was vetoed by Russia.