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UN: Civilian despair rising in 'medieval' siege of Aleppo

A man walks on the rubble of a destroyed building following reported air strikes by Syrian forces in the rebel-held Al-Shaar neighbourhood of Aleppo, on June 8, 2016
Thaer Mohammed (AFP/File)
UN aid chief Stephen O'Brien branded the siege on rebel-held parts of Aleppo as 'medieval and shameful'

The UN has called for weekly 48-hour ceasefires in and around Syria's Aleppo as its top aid official warns that food supplies for besieged civilians will soon run out.

Syria's regime intensified air strikes on rebel-held areas of Aleppo province Monday, killing 22 people and again threatening key hospitals, said the British daily the Guardian. Over the weekend, four area hospitals were bombed.

The push for aid to reach desperate civilians trapped by a regime siege in Syria's former second city came on the eve of a meeting between a UN envoy, US and Russian officials to try to revive peace talks.

UN aid chief Stephen O'Brien branded the siege on rebel-held parts of Aleppo as "medieval and shameful", and called for weekly 48-hour humanitarian truces to prevent it from taking hold.

“I cannot stress enough how critical the situation is for those trapped in eastern Aleppo city. This population is at serious risk of besiegement as the fighting closes in and their access to basic necessities runs out,” he told the UN, according to the Guardian.

“The available protected space is shrinking; humanitarian conditions are worsening, and the level of despair is rising,” he added.

Karam al-Masri (AFP)

O'Brien warned that food supplies in eastern Aleppo, home to at least 200,000 people, were expected to run out by the middle of August.

"The international community simply cannot let eastern Aleppo city become yet another -- and by far the largest -- besieged area," O'Brien said.

Referencing the conditions in Sarajevo during the Bosnian war, French ambassador François Delattre said that “The security council simply cannot accept such war crimes – yes, war crimes – to repeat again.”

Nearly 600,000 people are estimated to live under siege in Syria, most of them encircled by President Bashar al-Assad's forces, whose approval the United Nations says is needed to deliver aid by air.

Britain, France and the United States quickly endorsed O'Brien's call. Japan's ambassador, Koro Bessho, who holds the council presidency, said there was "overwhelming support for the idea" among the 15 council members.

French ambassador to the UN, Francois Delattre, compared Aleppo's plight to Sarajevo during the Bosnian war, and said the Security Council could not allow "such war crimes" to happen again.

Once Syria's economic powerhouse, Aleppo has been roughly divided between government control in the west and rebel control in the east since mid-2012.

Talks about talks

UN Syria envoy Staffan de Mistura is expected to meet top US and Russian officials in Geneva on Tuesday with the aim of reviving peace talks to end the five-year conflict.

Denis Balibouse (POOL/AFP/File)

More than 280,000 people have been killed in Syria and more than half its population has been displaced since the conflict began.

US mission spokesman Paul Patin said Washington's special envoy for Syria Michael Ratney would be at Tuesday's meeting in Geneva.

Russia's Ria-Novosti news agency said deputy foreign minister Gennady Gatilov would represent Moscow, a key ally of the Syrian regime.

US Secretary of State John Kerry and his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov were also due to meet Tuesday on the sidelines of an Asian summit in Laos.

The two announced earlier in July an agreement on "concrete steps" to salvage a failing nationwide ceasefire in Syria, a key step before negotiations can resume.

The February ceasefire between the regime and non-jihadist rebels -- which was brokered by the US and Russia -- remains largely in tatters.

(Staff with AFP)

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