Hundreds missing in government-controlled areas of Aleppo

UN spokesperson says civilians are caught between warring parties in “flagrant violation of international humanitarian law”

Hundreds missing in government-controlled areas of Aleppo

A general picture shows Aleppo citadel and the President Mosque, in the Syrian government controlled central Aleppo. Picture by Hassan Ammar AP/Press Association Images

The UN has warned of “very worrying allegations” that hundreds of men have disappeared after crossing into Syrian government-controlled areas of Aleppo.

Family members have said they lost contact with the men - between the ages of 30 and 50 – after they fled rebel-held areas of the city ten days ago.

UN Human Rights Office spokesman, Rupert Colville told reporters in Geneva this afternoon that, “given the terrible record of arbitrary detention, torture and enforced disappearances by the Syrian government”  there are deep concerns over the fate of the missing men.

Mr Colville said there are also approximately 150 activists in the area who fear being detained should they attempt to flee.

“We are gravely concerned about the safety of civilians in Aleppo - those who remain in opposition-controlled areas as well as those who have fled to areas under Government control,” he said.

“While it is difficult to establish the facts in such a fluid and dangerous situation, we have received very worrying allegations that hundreds of men have gone missing after crossing into Government-controlled areas.”

The news came as Russia announced the Syrian army had suspended operations in the city to allow for civilian evacuations.

According to human rights monitoring group, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, at least 80,000 people have already fled Aleppo's eastern enclaves since the Syrian army mounted a new offensive in mid-November.

The Russian-backed bombardment of the city has seen government forces retake three quarters of eastern Aleppo in recent weeks.

“We believe there may currently be around 100,000 civilians in areas under the control of armed opposition groups in eastern Aleppo, with another 30,000 believed to have fled to areas under Government control,” said Mr Colville.

“There have been allegations of reprisals against civilians who are perceived to have supported armed opposition groups - as well as reports that men were being separated from women and children.

The human rights body has also heard allegations the Fatah al-Sham Front (Formerly al-Nusra) and the Abu Amara Battalion have abducted and killed an unknown number of civilians who called on rebel groups to leave their neighbourhoods, to spare the lives of citizens.

“Civilians are caught between warring parties that appear to be operating in flagrant violation of international humanitarian law,” said Mr Colville.

“Indiscriminate attacks, with little effort taken to avoid civilian casualties, have been conducted on heavily populated areas on both sides of the city.

“Civilians are being used as pawns and prevented from leaving - in blatant violation of the obligation to take all feasible precautions to protect civilians from the effects of attack. The war crime of hostage taking is also possibly being committed.”

The UN office has also warned of increased attacks in the Idlib Governorate, to the south east of Aleppo - the largest remaining opposition-controlled area in western Syria - with airstrikes resulting in the deaths of dozens of civilians in recent days.

The office has called on the international community to set aside political differences and focus on preventing a repeat "of the horrors of Aleppo" and ensuring that civilians in the area are spared further “terror, death and devastation.”