Syria’s Aleppo besieged, fears for 300,000 trapped civilians
BEIRUT // Syrian government forces have cut off the only road into rebel-held parts of Aleppo, besieging hundreds of thousands of people in the northern city and raising fears of a humanitarian crisis.
Government fighters and members of Lebanon’s Hizbollah group reached the Castello road early on Sunday, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
“The eastern neighbourhoods are now completely besieged,” said Rami Abdel Rahman, head of the Britain-based monitoring group.
There were also reports of intense shelling and air strikes on the rebel-held areas of Aleppo after the road was seized.
The siege marks the biggest government success in Syria’s former commercial centre and largest city since rebels captured parts of it in 2012.
Aleppo and its suburbs have seen intense fighting in recent months, with Syrian troops and their allies advancing with the aid of Russian air strikes. Earlier this year the government launched a wide offensive that captured much of the city’s northern outskirts.
Government forces reached a point where they could fire on the Castello road earlier this month, effectively cutting it off, though some people still made the dangerous journey.
Facebook pages run by Aleppo-based activists on Sunday urged civilians to stay away from the road to avoid being arrested or wounded.
The road was used by rebels but also to bring in food and medicines for residents and to take seriously injured people for treatment to other areas of Syria or to Turkey.
The United Nations says there are about 300,000 civilians in Aleppo’s rebel-held neighbourhoods, and there are fears that they now face starvation.
Baraa Al Halaby, an activist based in the city, said vegetable and fruit markets were almost empty on Sunday morning and residents were lining up outside bakeries.
“Humanitarian conditions are difficult,” he said.
Sieges by both the regime and its opponents have had a devastating effect in other areas of Syria, including the town of Madaya where aid groups say dozens of people have died from starvation and malnutrition during a government siege.
According to the United Nations, nearly 600,000 people are living under siege in Syria, most of them surrounded by government forces.
* Associated Press and Agence France-Presse
Updated: July 17, 2016 04:00 AM