For the second straight week, Syrian President Bashar Assad’s forces, heavily bolstered by Russian airstrikes and Iran-backed militias, have made enormous gains in their four-year battle for Aleppo, seizing more than three-quarters of the key city’s eastern territory from rebels. Their latest advances all but guarantee Assad’s eventual retaking of the city and have firmly shifted the once uncertain narrative from if to when.
Tens of thousands of civilians have fled from the besieged territory in the past two weeks, but Rupert Colville, a representative for the UN’s High Commissioner for Human Rights, reported roughly 100,000 civilians were “being squeezed into ever-shrinking areas.”
“Eastern Aleppo is surrounded, and anyone who wants to leave doesn’t have the luxury to do that,” journalist Bilal Abdul Kareem told VICE News over Skype on Thursday evening.
The tactics used by Assad’s forces during the siege have regularly raised the specter of war crimes. “Atrocity after atrocity,” said Abdul Kareem. “We’re talking about chemical weapons, barrel bombs,… and it’s all right on the TV.”
Though Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said there was a brief pause in the offensive Thursday to allow for civilian evacuation out of the war-torn territory, residents reported otherwise. Heavy strikes and ground attacks resumed on the embattled territory Friday morning.
The UN reported Friday that hundreds of men appeared to have gone missing since fleeing eastern Aleppo for government-held territory, following on concerns raised by human rights group Amnesty International in late November.