BEIRUT (AP) — Syrian state media is reporting Friday from areas newly captured during a government ground offensive in the besieged eastern Aleppo enclave, showing restorations of roads, removal of debris from the battered areas and resettlement of civilians.
The U.N. humanitarian aid agency said an estimated 31,500 have been displaced following government advances into the rebel-held enclave this weekend, in one of the most dramatic shifts in the conflict now in its sixth year. Most of those displaced fled to government and Kurdish held areas in western Aleppo, separated only by roads and deserted buildings.
Many were also displaced inside rebel-held parts of the city, cramming into already crowded and damaged areas in south and central eastern Aleppo.
From the government-controlled areas, state broadcaster al-Ikhabirya TV showed hundreds of displaced people sitting on rain-soaked streets. They also showed newly-displaced residents lodged in empty buildings pockmarked with bullets, fresh laundry hung between. The state-owned channel showed dozens of the displaced people waving Syrian flags from green government buses.
The Syrian government has been keen to show it is restoring normalcy to the shell-shocked community following the swift restoration of government control to areas held by the opposition for four years. Syrian officials visited the newly-captured areas as workers were filmed clearing debris.
An Ikhbariya broadcaster said work is underway to soon reopen a road linking the eastern and western parts of the city, disused for years. He also interviewed newly-resettled residents, who spoke of rebel abuses.
One displaced woman interviewed in the government-held Jibreen district said her son was shot dead as he fled rebel areas. The woman, who didn’t give her name, said she would carry a gun to avenge her son’s killing. She praised the Syrian army and said that while in rebel-held areas her family had no food or drink and was treated badly.
“My son Bashar died hungry,” she said in tears.
Others interviewed in the newly captured Hanano district complained of being mistreated on suspicion of cooperating with the Syrian army, including one who said he was detained. One resident complained of lack of heating facilities in their new settlement.
Opposition and activists had also accused the government of shelling displaced Syrians who were fleeing the government advances. At least 50 people were killed in artillery shelling in the rebel-held district where to which they were fleeing.
The Office of Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs estimated that a total of 26,500 people fled to government-held Jibreen, east of Aleppo, and Kurdish-held Sheik Massoud. Another 5,000 were displaced within eastern Aleppo.
Spokesman Jens Laerke on Friday cited reports that some men and boys trying to enter government-controlled western Aleppo had been detained by government troops. Amnesty International said it too had received reports of Syrian security forces detaining men in Aleppo areas recaptured by the government and warned of the potential for revenge attacks. The reports could not be independently confirmed and a Syrian military official said screening measures were in place to prevent “terrorists” infiltrating the civilians.
Meanwhile, clashes continued on the southern edge of eastern Aleppo as pro-government troops attempted to breach the rebel-enclave. Another front is in the eastern part of the rebel-held enclave, where pro-government troops have also kept up their advance on opposition fighters, state media reported. Al-Ikhbariya also said at least one person was killed in western Aleppo from rebel rockets lobbed there.
U.N. officials have expressed concern over the plight of civilians caught in the fighting in Aleppo, and called for more access to the eastern part of the city that has been besieged since July. There have been no operational hospitals in eastern Aleppo for nearly two weeks after they were bombed.
Meanwhile, the Russian military criticized the United Nations for dragging its feet on delivering humanitarian aid to the areas of Aleppo recently seized by Syrian government forces.
Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov said that the Russian military has been the only source of food, medicine and other supplies for 90,000 residents of the city’s neighborhoods seized by the Syrian army this week.
The U.N. emergency coordinator, Stephen O’Brien, has said local partners of the U.N. have provided hot meals and drinkable water to those displaced in Jibreen and urged the Syrian government to ensure U.N. staff are able to deploy unrestricted and safely across Aleppo.
Associated Press reporters Jamey Keaten in Geneva and Vladimir Isachenkov in Moscow contributed to this report
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