Around 200,000 Syrians have fled from the most populous city, Aleppo, in the past 10 days as fighting rages between regime forces and rebels, the United Nations refugee agency said Monday.
Melissa Fleming, a spokesperson for the U.N. agency, said that most people “have not crossed” the borders into Turkey, Lebanon, or other neighboring countries, but have been internally displaced. The disbursement has made it difficult for aid agencies to operate.
The U.N. said that an undetermined number of people are still trapped in the city.
Syrian regime forces have used heavy artillery in Aleppo, the country’s economic hub with a population of more than 3 million residents, the refugee organization said.
“I am extremely concerned by the impact of shelling and use of tanks and other heavy weapons on people in Aleppo,” Valerie Amos, the U.N. chief of humanitarian affairs who toured Syria months ago, said in a news release. She called on rebels and regime forces “to ensure that they do not target civilians and that they allow humanitarian organizations safe access.”
For a third day, rebels and government soldiers clashed to control the city, with both sides claiming they took over new areas.
“The Syrian army took control of part of Salaheddin District and continues its offensive,” a security source close to the regime said, according to Al-Jazeera. But a Free Syrian Army commander, Col. Abdel Jabbar al-Oqaidi, said his forces “launched a new assault from Salaheddin during the night, and we destroyed four tanks” while government forces had “not progressed one meter.”
However, Oqaidi said, “Several quarters of Aleppo are being bombed with MiG [Russian-made fighter jets] and helicopters.”
The colonel’s account coincides with what U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said Monday, that fighter planes and helicopters have been deployed, adding to the government’s 16-monthlong “brutal crackdown” on dissent.
“Each day, as the violence spirals, more Syrians are killed, injured, tortured, or forced to flee their homes or their country,” Ban said.
The battle for Aleppo follows clashes between rebels and forces loyal to President Bashar Assad in Damascus. More than a week ago, four members of Assad’s inner circle, including his brother-in-law, were killed in a bomb attack.
On Monday, a top Syrian diplomat to the U.K. resigned in a widening trend of high-level officials defecting or resigning, including high-level military officials and the Syrian ambassador to Iraq, the British Foreign Office said.
Syrian Charge d’Affaires Khaled al-Ayoubi stepped down because “he is no longer willing to represent a regime that has committed such violent and oppressive acts against its own people, and is therefore unable to continue in his position,” the Foreign Office said in a statement.
“His departure is another blow to the Assad regime,” a Foreign Office spokesman said in the statement. “It illustrates the revulsion and despair the regime’s actions are provoking amongs Syrians from all walks of life, inside the country and abroad.”
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