The United Nations is deeply concerned over the fate of an estimated 5,000 civilians trapped by fighting in and around the town of Al Bab in northern Syria.
“We urgently call on all parties to the conflict to immediately ensure the unhindered movement and safe passage for people trying to reach safety. The UN and partners are ready to provide humanitarian assistance and protection to the civilians who are caught in the middle of this combat,” said Ali Al-Za’tari, the UN Resident/Humanitarian Coordinator for Syria.
Al Bab and the area to its east remain under the control of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), while non-state armed groups are advancing from the west and north.
Since 5 December 2016, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) has received reports of approximately 300 civilians killed so far as a result of the offensive to retake Al Bab, primarily due to airstrikes, as well as from improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and active ground hostilities in the vicinity.
Information suggests that more than 100 civilians have been killed in and around Al Bab town since 1 February, OHCHR says, with civilians reportedly being shot at by fighters in the area. “The conflict in Al-Bab has put civilians, many of whom are women and children, in grave jeopardy. All parties must ensure that civilians are protected from harm, have freedom of movement and have unconditional access to prompt and unimpeded humanitarian assistance,” said Kevin Kennedy, the Regional Coordinator for the Syria Crisis.
As the operation advances, parties to the conflict may be preparing for urban battles inside Al Bab town which could place civilians in the area at heightened risk of death and injury, as well as vulnerable to being used as human shields. There are growing concerns that ISIL fighters may increasingly use IEDs and explosives in areas from which it withdraws, further putting the remaining civilians at risk and precluding any safe return of the civilian population.
The UN calls on all parties to the conflict, and those with influence over them, to warrant permanent and unhindered access by all humanitarian actors, including protection actors, to independently assess needs and provide needed services to persons affected by the crisis, particularly where developments on the ground have resulted in change of control over populated areas.
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