The number of people living under siege in Syria has doubled this year to almost one million, the UN says. Emergency Relief Co-ordinator Stephen O’Brien said the figure had jumped from 486,700 to 974,080 in six months.
People were being “isolated, starved, bombed and denied medical attention and humanitarian assistance in order to force them to submit or flee”, he said.
O’Brien noted that the “deliberate tactic of cruelty” was mostly employed by President Bashar al-Assad’s forces.
“Those maintaining the sieges know by now that this Council is apparently unable or unwilling to enforce its will or agree now on steps to stop them,” he told the UN Security Council.
Newly besieged locations include the rebel-held Damascus suburbs of Jobar, Hajar al-Aswad and Khan al-Shih, as well as several areas in the eastern Ghouta agricultural belt outside the capital.
O’Brien also told the Security Council that he was “more or less at my wit’s end” over the situation in the divided city of Aleppo, where an estimated 275,000 people living under siege in rebel-held eastern districts face “annihilation”.
A unilateral pause on aerial bombardment by the government and its ally Russia that began on 18 October had offered a “glimmer of hope”, he said.
But the shelling of civilian areas in the government-controlled west by rebel and jihadist groups and the resumption of air strikes last Tuesday, he added, had returned “the city and its inhabitants to death and destruction once again”.
“Over the past days, reports indicate that hundreds of civilians have been killed, injured or otherwise affected by the relentless attacks on eastern Aleppo.”
O’Brien said that, as of Sunday, there were barely any functional hospitals in rebel-held areas, as all the medical facilities were being “bombed into oblivion”.
The more than 350 mortars and rockets launched indiscriminately into western Aleppo so far this month are meanwhile reported to have killed more than 60 people and injured 350 others.
A school was hit on the government side on Sunday, killing eight children.
“Let me be clear: we are not just seeing a resumption of violence in Aleppo, this is not business as usual,” O’Brien told the Security Council.
“What has been unleashed on civilians this past week is yet another low in an unrelenting inhuman onslaught, and it is as heart-breaking as it is not inevitable.”
O’Brien warned that humanitarian conditions in eastern Aleppo had also “gone from terrible to terrifying” and were “now barely survivable”.
The last of the food rations delivered by the UN before access was cut off in July were distributed on 13 November. Only a handful of rations from local NGOs remain, food in markets is scarce, and prices have sky-rocketed.
On Sunday, the Syrian government said it had rejected a proposal by the UN special envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, for eastern Aleppo to be granted autonomy if jihadist fighters linked to al-Qaeda withdrew and the fighting stopped.
US President Barack Obama – who has backed the uprising against Assad – meanwhile said he was “not optimistic about the short-term prospects in Syria”.
“Once Russia and Iran made a decision to back Assad and a brutal air campaign and essentially a pacification of Aleppo regardless of civilian casualties, children being killed or wounded, schools or hospitals being destroyed, then it was very hard to see a way in which even a trained and committed moderate opposition could hold its ground for long periods of time,” he said.