President Bashar al-Assad of Syria and his Russian allies are aiming to seize rebel-held Aleppo before President-elect Donald Trump takes office on Jan. 20, a senior regime official told Reuters. Meanwhile, up to 16,000 people have fled the rebel-held eastern half of the city in an attempt to flee the escalating attacks by the Syrian government, its Russian allies and thousands of pro-government foreign militants, with approximately 250,000 people still trapped in the city, according to the United Nations.
Pro-government forces want "to mitigate the risks of any shift in U.S. policy towards the war in Syria," Reuters reported. Trump has said he supports Russia's campaign in Syria, saying the U.S. focus should be on combating terrorism, not the Syrian government.
The aerial bombing and ground fighting will likely only intensify in the coming days. As The New York Times reports, "Mr. Assad and his subordinates have said they intend to retake all of Aleppo, apparently regardless of the cost in lives and destruction, as he feels increasingly emboldened that the nearly six-year war is moving in his favor."
A recent report by Unicef, the UN's Children’s Fund, estimates that "100,000 children are living under siege" in the eastern neighborhoods of Aleppo. The last UN food rations were distributed in the city, besieged for months, over two weeks. In the report, UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake said:
“For millions of human beings in Syria, life has become an endless nightmare – in particular for the hundreds of thousands of children living under siege. Children are being killed and injured, too afraid to go to school or even play, surviving with little food and hardly any medicine. This is no way to live – and too many are dying.”
According to accounts by the international medical humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders, babies are being born in Aleppo even as bombs fall. Umm Wassim, a midwife who has been delivering babies in east Aleppo for 20 years, told the organization:
“Because of the food shortages and lack of good nutrition, a lot of pregnant women suffer from severe anemia and low blood sugar, which can make them vomit or lose consciousness,” says Umm Wassim, a midwife who has been delivering babies in east Aleppo for 20 years. “Often the anemia is so severe that they need a blood transfusion.”
“When conditions are really bad, a lot of women are scared and suffer psychological stress. [As a result] the number of premature babies has definitely increased.”
Umm Leen, a mother of seven children in the besieged city, told the organization about her experience of giving labor on her own and how her baby has lost weight and become “very weak.” Describing her other children as “incredibly thin, too,” she offered more details about their life in Aleppo:
"We haven’t had any nappies [diapers] for three months, so people are using rags instead, but this gives the babies rashes. My daughter has a very bad cough, but the children’s hospital has been bombed and I don’t know where to take her. The baby has difficulty breathing, as well as other health problems, but we can’t take him out of east Aleppo. We are just waiting for our children to die."
In addition to malnutrition and other grave health issues, children are dying from injuries sustained during bombardments. As ATTN: previously noted, nearly 100 children wre killed over the course of one of the most intense battles during the six-year conflict in September. The vast majority of civilians have been killed by the Syrian government and its allies, which are the only ones that possess air power.
In September, Hanaa Singer, Unicef's representative in Syria, told The New York Times that the situation in Aleppo is “definitely the worst we have seen for children.”
According to the international charity Save the Children, the proportion of child casualties in Aleppo seems to be higher than that in other recent conflicts in the Middle East. “They’re trapped, and they have no way of escaping,” spokesperson Alun McDonald told the Times. “That’s one reason we’re seeing such big numbers of child casualties.”
The Times also reports that children in parts of Aleppo besieged by the regime and its allies "also face dire food and medicine shortages. Surgery and blood transfusions required for treating bomb wounds are, by many accounts, practically impossible now. Medical workers have left children to die on hospital floors for lack of supplies."
[h/t The New York Times]