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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

WHO Calls for Evacuation of Sick, Wounded From Aleppo

By VOA News September 30, 2016

The World Health Organization called Friday for the immediate evacuation of hundreds of sick and wounded people from eastern Aleppo, Syria.

The WHO has estimated that children make up about one-third of the hundreds of civilians killed and wounded there over the past two weeks.

"The situation really is unfathomable," said Rick Brennan, WHO director of humanitarian emergencies. "According to health officials there, there have been 338 deaths in the last couple of weeks due to the bombardment, including 106 children. Eight hundred forty-six other individuals have been injured, again almost a third children – 261 children."

Also Friday, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon announced an investigation into an incident on September 19 involving a relief operation by the U.N. and the Syrian Arab Red Crescent. Humanitarians came under fire in Urum al-Kubra, when 31 trucks were delivering lifesaving assistance, leaving at least 18 people dead.

And, a monitoring group said Russian airstrikes across Syria in the past year had killed more than 9,000 people, including many civilians. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said many more civilians were wounded by the airstrikes.

Siege of Aleppo

Aleppo is under siege from the rebels in the east. The city is surrounded by Syrian forces and is hit daily from the air by Russian and Syrian planes – strikes that President Barack Obama has strongly condemned as "barbarous."

Russia and the Syrians say they are targeting "terrorists" – their term for rebels who want to topple the Syrian government – but the U.S. says Russia and Syria are hitting hospitals, refugee camps and such critical sites as water and power plants. The U.S. says the bombing is indiscriminate and that the Russians make no effort to specifically hit their stated target: Islamic State fighters.

The United Nations calls the plight of Aleppo desperate. Officials say medical evacuations are needed and food stocks are running low. In a city of about 250,000 people, only 14,000 food rations remain.

The United States is pushing Russia to pressure its close ally, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, to honor the cease-fire that was agreed upon September 9 and let U.N. relief convoys into Aleppo.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov insisted Thursday that Moscow still wants to reach a deal to renew the September 9 cease-fire, but said, "We have unfortunately taken note of the rather unconstructive character of the rhetoric from Washington over the past few days."

Secretary of State John Kerry has said the United States is "on the verge" of suspending diplomatic talks with Russia because of Moscow's continued bombing of rebels in eastern Aleppo. On Thursday, his spokesman told reporters that the State Department was in "active" contact with the Kremlin but was still prepared to step away, "barring some significant steps by Russia."

"We are still prepared to enact that kind of a suspension and we're in consultations right now inside our own government, and of course, with Foreign Minister [Sergei] Lavrov," John Kirby said.

'Dismay' at Syria's fate

U.N. humanitarian aid chief Stephen O'Brien told the Security Council on Thursday that what is happening in Aleppo filled him with "raw grief, dismay, intense sadness, frustration and an unquenchable anger."

"Besiegement is not a weapon of war. It is a flagrant, unjustifiable breach of the law," he said. "One day there will be no hiding place for the individuals and institutions callously, cynically perpetrating these war crimes."

O'Brien also had harsh words for U.N. diplomats for their perceived inaction in Syria.

"The only remaining deterrent, it seems, is that there will be real accountability in the court of world opinion and disgust," he said. "Goodness knows, nothing else seems to be working to stop this deliberate and gratuitous carnage."

VOA's Mary Alice Salinas and Lisa Schlein contributed to this report.

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