Aleppo Under Siege: Efforts to “Break” the Siege Not Yet Enough

ALEPPO CITY UPDATE 16/08

Activists in Aleppo document the destruction under siege. Author: Activists in Aleppo

Situational Overview

Since May 2016, Aleppo city has seen some of the most intense fighting of the entire 5 year Syrian conflict. In recent months pro-Government forces increased military efforts to take control of the strategic areas surrounding the opposition-controlled east of Aleppo city. On 7th July the opposition-controlled east was placed under siege after pro-Government forces took control of Castello Road, the last remaining route in and out of the area.

Following the onset of the siege the humanitarian situation for the 300,000 people trapped in east Aleppo further deteriorated as hospitals, markets, bakeries, homes, shops and humanitarian infrastructure continued to come under attack; food prices soared; and stocks of food, fuel and medicine rapidly decreased.

“Breaking” the Siege on East Aleppo

On the 6th of August a military offensive launched by opposition forces in the south of the city culminated in the “breaking” of the siege, restoring an access route, via Ramousah road, into the city. In the days following, there have been reports of a small Qatar-funded humanitarian convoy reaching the city from Idlib and small commercial vehicles gaining access to east Aleppo via this road. However, access via this route since the 6th August has been extremely restricted and perilous to the extent that reports from the field today indicate that opposition forces have now closed the road for all purposes, including access of supplies, following intense aerial and indirect fire attacks on the road. The entry of the restricted humanitarian and commercial supplies last week appear to have had limited impact upon the humanitarian situation on the ground, which continues to worsen.

Whilst any attempt at breaking of the siege would appear to be a positive result for the humanitarian situation, in real terms the opposite can be said so far as the civilian population continues to suffer under increased attack and without adequate access to healthcare, food, electricity or water. Today alone there have been more than 70 airstrikes on Aleppo city and the surrounding countryside.

Mohamed , the head of Humanitarian Office of As-Salheen quarter in east Aleppo explains the recent changes in the humanitarian situation there: “Since the siege had been broken by opposition forces, we have witnessed a terrifying escalation in the airstrikes; all kinds of bombs are being used and these kill almost up to 40 people every day. People here have almost known the schedule of warplanes; in the early morning warplanes and helicopters are used in the afternoon there are unmanned scouting planes and at night back to warplanes. Every two hours of scouting planes hovering there are multiple airstrikes hitting here and there. Almost every hour there is an airstrike. As for the humanitarian situation, we witnessed some changes as well; I mean some local charities managed to deliver humanitarian aids including seasonal vegetables and fruits and these are available now at relatively affordable prices. Baby milk has not been available even before the siege. The problem is that the majority of people have lost their jobs and livelihoods.”

Vulnerable civilian populations and humanitarian staff in the east of the city remain under constant threat of shelling and airstrikes. Market and humanitarian infrastructure continue to be negatively impacted on a daily basis by aerial strikes by pro-Government forces. This in turn has resulted in further delays of distributions of urgently-needed food supplies which are in place inside the city, meaning that even where supplies are already in place, humanitarian agencies are not able to distribute them for fears of risking the safety and security of humanitarian staff and beneficiaries.

The humanitarian situation across Aleppo city — both in the opposition-controlled east and the Government-controlled west is desperate. The west f the city is now facing a humanitarian crisis due to road closures by opposition forces. East and west there is a lack of adequate food and medicine supplies and attacks on civilian infrastructure have led to over two million residents across the city having to live without electricity or access to public water.

Water Pipe Damage in Bab Nayrab, east Aleppo 21/07. Author: Activists in Aleppo

“Breaking” the Siege Three Hours at a Time

On the 10th August, the Government of Russia announced a daily three-hour humanitarian ceasefire from 10am to 1pm to facilitate the delivery of aid supplies to the city. However, despite optimism that these factors may effectively “break” the siege conditions and facilitate humanitarian access from Turkey, this has not occurred in practice, with no humanitarian supplies able to enter from Turkey between 7th July and the time of writing due to ongoing aerial strikes and shelling of access routes.

As for the new route opened lately by opposition forces (Ramousah Road) and for the Russian three-hour ceasefire, Mohamed says: “A lot of people and vehicles have been able to use Ramousah Road either entering or leaving the eastern neighbourhoods of Aleppo. Until now the road is still used; whoever wants to leave or enter can do so. The only problem is with airstrikes as the road is still not very secure. Even the so-called airstrikes pause declared by Russian government is a lie used only for the public opinion to serve the government agenda. I have been living in As-Salheen quarter all my life and there have not been a ceasefire even for a single day since the beginning of the revolution. There were many airstrikes in the time declared for airstrikes pause.”

Further, even if this policy were implemented, the proposed 3-hour window is vastly insufficient to ensure full humanitarian access into and out of the city, or to enable humanitarian agencies to assist the growing population in need.

The number of vulnerable people is rapidly increasing. With humanitarian supplies unable to be distributed due to the ongoing shelling, and most due to run out by end August if distributions do occur, the civilian population of east Aleppo city is facing a catastrophic food security outlook if humanitarian and commercial supplies continue to be denied genuine safe opportunities to access to the city.

All parties to the conflict must enable safe and unrestricted movement of all civilians who wish to exercise their freedom of movement.

Next People in Need update on Aleppo City 19/08

Eleanor McClelland, PIN Regional Communications and Advocacy Officer Turkey-Syria-Iraq

Sari Haj Jneid, PIN Field Communications Officer in Syria