Last Friday, December 9, the UN General Assembly passed a resolution calling for the protection of civilians in Syria. The resolution was passed by 122 votes to 13, demanding a cessation of hostilities and humanitarian access. Yet less than a week later, the world is watching the continued bombing and assault on eastern Aleppo, with credible reports of atrocities emerging.
Activists, reporters and civilians in Aleppo are now reporting that they fear this could be their last communication with the world, most famously Bana Alabed, the seven year old whose Tweets have shown the impact of the fighting on children:
Filmmaker Waad Al Kateab has won two Amnesty International awards for her reporting. She fears this film could be her last. Showing immense bravery, she has chosen to stay and continue reporting on the plight of civilians [Warning: contains shocking imagery].
The atrocities can only be halted by the cessation of hostilities. The immediate priority has to be for the protection of civilians. An urgent call to the international community for evacuation has been signed by the Independent Doctors Association, Kesh Malek, the White Helmets and the Syrian American Medical Society in Aleppo. It reads:
“A message from besieged Eastern Aleppo — home to more than 100,000 civilians.
The bombs are falling as we write this. For years our humanitarian volunteers have worked to save the lives of our people in Aleppo: operating in underground hospitals, rescuing entire families buried under the rubble and risking our lives to document what the daily war crimes committed by Assad regime and its ally Russia. We can do no more. Now we are with 100,000 civilians trapped in an area of five square kilometres with non-stop bombs, shells and advancements on the ground. In one building more than 500 people are sheltering. People have been underground for days. We are calling on you in the International Community to provide a safe passage out of Aleppo for the remaining 100,000 people. We know that the UN has a plan to get us out across the four kilometres of Western Aleppo to safety: with a few dozen buses and lorries we could all be evacuated in twenty four hours. However, we need you to guarantee the safety of their workers and our own.
If we stay we fear for our lives. The women may be taken to camps, the men disappeared and anyone who is known to have supported civilians will face detention or execution. We’ve watched thousands of our boys and mens be detained. Countless White Helmets, doctors, nurses and humanitarians have been targeted and killed in the regime’s cruel assault on Aleppo. The regime has been trying to kill us for five years. Please don’t give them this chance.
We can not believe that the world’s most powerful countries cannot get 100,000 souls four kilometers to safety.”
“The UN’s humanitarian leaders indicate that an evacuation of the 100,000 civilians remaining in eastern Aleppo is possible within hours and that this operation would only require 24 hours to complete. The medical and transportation logistics are ready. The UN is only awaiting the go-ahead for the start of the operation.
The evacuation could be undertaken by foot as there is only 4km of land to cross in order to cross the regime-held territory. Vehicles and ambulances are equally ready to evacuate the injured and the sick.”
If, as looks increasingly certain, forces supporting the Assad regime take control of Aleppo, it will be a major boost to their goals. But it will not end the war, merely introduce a new phase. There is likely to be no let-up for civilians. The focus will turn to other fronts, possibly towards Idlib, or Palmyra, where so-called Islamic State forces have retaken the city. Therefore there must be an increase in efforts to build peace and end the war.
Despite the devastating violence, there are a number of peacebuilders who remain committed to working with communities across the divides in Syria to build peace. This week, Peace Direct has spoken with a group who told us of their dedication to work for peace, despite the daily threats they face. We have also launched a section of Insight on Conflict mapping peace groups in Syria.
We encourage more support for such peacebuilders. That groups of activists continue their dedication to peace in such times is remarkable. They need support now more than ever.