FAITH leaders in the UK are urging the Government to trigger international action to support the delivery of aid to Aleppo.
Over recent days, the Syrian army and its allies have made swift progress in driving opposition groups from eastern areas of the city which they have held for several years. Hundreds of civilians have been killed and injured in the latest assaults, and in attempts by anti-government forces to defend their positions. Thousands of people, who have lived under siege for months, have been streaming out of the city, some heading for areas under Kurdish control, others seeking shelter in government-administered districts.
Thirteen UK faith leaders — Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Sikh, and Hindu — issued a joint statement urging the Government “to act to support the urgent delivery of aid to those besieged in Aleppo”. An estimated 250,000 people, including 100,000 children, have been cut off from food and medical supplies since August, and the UN predicts that food supplies will soon be depleted.
The faith leaders, including representatives of the Baptist Union of Great Britain, the Church of Scotland, the Methodist Church, and the United Reformed Church, said that Aleppo was “an ancient city which has been home to people of many faiths”. They called for prayers “for all those still in the city” and “action to preserve the lives of the people of Aleppo”.
The Syrian army, backed by Shi’a militiamen from Iran, Iraq, and Lebanon, has taken back control of several neighbourhoods of eastern Aleppo, inflicting the most serious defeat on the opposition forces for several years. Syrian Kurdish fighters have dislodged armed opponents of President Bashar al-Assad’s regime from a northern district. The likelihood is that the Damascus government will soon be in a position to announce that Syria’s second-largest city, and the key stronghold of anti-regime forces, is back in its hands.
One government-controlled daily newspaper said that, in the coming days, troops would divide the city into security districts that would be easier to control. Rebel gunmen would have no choice but to surrender or “accept national reconciliation under the terms of the Syrian state”. The fall of Aleppo, while amounting to a serious blow to the anti-Assad movement, will not mean the end of opposition to the Damascus authorities. But the future looks uncertain. Western and Arab governments are still reluctant to supply rebels with weapons that might be used against Russian aircraft, and there are questions over whether the US President-elect, Donald Trump, will continue to support the armed opposition.
Several days before the latest government offensive in Aleppo, the latest statement to the Security Council on Syria made by the UN under-secretary-general for humanitarian affairs and emergency relief coordinator, Stephen O’Brien, painted an extremely gloomy picture. He said that in each monthly statement in the past he had reported to the 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”.
Mr O’Brien called on “all with influence — that’s the phrase I am diplomatically required to use, but you know around this table and beyond you who you are — to do their part to end these senseless cycles of violence once and for all, and put an end to the slaughterhouse that is Aleppo”. He said that without international action there was no hope of an end to the violence.
While the focus of international attention is on Aleppo, Syrians elsewhere in the country are also suffering. UNICEF said this week that the number of children living under siege had doubled in less than one year to nearly 500,000, in 16 areas. “For millions of human beings in Syria, life has become an endless nightmare,” UNICEF’s executive director, Anthony Lake, said.