‘No safe place left’ for children in war-ravaged Aleppo: UN official

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Fear on the streets: A man runs with a child who survived what activists say was an airstrike by forces loyal to Bashar al-Assad at al-Ferdaws in Aleppo (Photo: Reuters)

Geneva (UN) – Returning from a mission to Aleppo, a senior United Nations Children’s Agency (UNICEF) official in Syria described “haunting images” of children killed by mortars and malnourishment, and said that the terrible situation “continues to plummet to even greater lows.”

“When I was there, nearly 100 mortars fell on west Aleppo in a couple of days […] explosions lit up the night sky and the sounds of war reverberated across the city,” said Hannah Singer, the UNICEF Syria Representative.

“Even by Syrian standards, the recent bombardment and shelling have been the most intense in Aleppo,” she said on Wednesday.

She further said that some 31,500 people have been displaced from eastern Aleppo in recent days and that based on latest estimates, at least half of them seem to be children.

Painting a grave picture of the scene in eastern Aleppo’s Hanano, a neighbourhood that was retaken by government forces on 27 November, Ms Singer said: “The destruction was massive. Unexploded ordnance scattered everywhere. Apartments were gutted, hospitals nearly destroyed and schools completely damaged except for two that could be rehabilitated.”

Noting that, so far this year there had been 84 attacks on schools in Syria with at least 69 children killed and many others injured while at school, Ms Singer underscored: “Even going to school can be a matter of life or death.”

“And I will be forever haunted by the images of the bodies of the two beautiful girls, Hanadi and Lamar, who left for school one morning with pink ribbons in their hair. They never made it. Shrapnel from a mortar hit them on the way and they were killed. Hanadi’s hand still grasped the remains of a chocolate bar,” she added.

While the world’s attention is on Aleppo, eastern Aleppo is only one out of 16 besieged areas in the country, where an estimated half a million children remain trapped amid worsening conditions.

“Besiegement – a tactic of war from the Middle Ages – has been used by all sides. Where armed forces surround an area and try to starve the other into submission, whilst restricting the movement of persons, including the sick and wounded,” she said.

The UNICEF official further noted extreme lack of food and medical services that are taking a toll on children with cases of extreme malnutrition resulting in deaths of children.

“We can make a difference but it’s never enough. Let’s be clear, as long as the violence continues, children in Syria will suffer,” she said.

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