As victorious forces of the Syrian government of Bashar Al Assad and his allies broke through rebel defences in Aleppo, Syria, unleashing an onslaught of epic proportions, the United Nations has declared that the city may fall any moment from now.
There are concerns for civilians; tens of thousands of them trapped in rebel pockets in Eastern Aleppo. They have run out of food and medical supplies, and many believe they would not be spared by government forces, having supported the rebels throughout the war.
According to Reuters, the UN reported on Tuesday that Syrian soldiers and allied Iraqi fighters had summarily shot dead 82 civilians in recaptured Aleppo districts.
The Syrian army has denied carrying out killings or torture among those captured, and its main ally Russia said on Tuesday that it was rebels who had “kept over 100,000 people as human shields”.
The rout of rebels from their ever-shrinking territory in Aleppo sparked a mass flight of civilians and insurgents in bitter weather, a crisis the United Nations said was a “complete meltdown of humanity”.
Hopes for a last-ditch deal to end the fighting by withdrawing fighters also seemed in doubt, with Moscow rejecting calls for an immediate ceasefire as concern grew over the fate of civilians.
“The reports we had are of people being shot in the street trying to flee and shot in their homes,” said Rupert Colville, spokesman for the U.N. office. “There could be many more.”
Behind those fleeing was a wasteland of flattened buildings, concrete rubble and bullet-pocked walls, where tens of thousands had lived until recent days under intense bombardment even after medical and rescue services had collapsed.
Colville said the rebel-held area was “a hellish corner” of less than a square kilometer, adding its capture was imminent.
The Syrian army and its allies could declare victory at any moment, a Syrian military source said, predicting the final fall of the rebel enclave on Tuesday or Wednesday, after insurgent defenses collapsed on Monday.
Turkish and Russian officials will meet on Wednesday to examine a possible ceasefire and opening a corridor, a senior Turkish official, who declined to be identified, told Reuters.
But Moscow, the Syrian government’s most powerful ally, rejected any immediate call for a ceasefire. “The Russian side wants to do that only when the corridors are established,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Tuesday.
The spokesman for the civil defense force in the former rebel area of Aleppo said rebels now controlled an area of less than three sq km. “The situation is very, very bad. The civil defense has stopped operating in the city,” he told Reuters.
A surrender or withdrawal of the rebels from Aleppo would mean the end of the rebellion in the city, Syria’s largest until the outbreak of war after mass protests in 2011, but it is unclear if such a deal can be struck by world powers.