U.N. rights chief Michelle Bachelet said Tuesday civilians are at “higher risk than ever” in Syria as forces backing the government carry out an offensive to take back territory in the northwestern part of the country.
Speaking in Geneva, Bachelet called for all parties involved in the fighting to institute a cease-fire, and to put in place humanitarian corridors to allow civilians safe passage.
But with the U.N. estimating the conflict displacing more than 900,000 people since December 1, and many people having fled to the northwest from other areas earlier in the Syrian war, she expressed concern about their limited options.
“No shelter is now safe,” Bachelet said. “And as the government offensive continues and people are forced into smaller and smaller pockets, I fear even more people will be killed.”
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad gave a rare television address Monday pledging the key city of Aleppo will “return stronger than ever” after his forces took back control of the area from rebel fighters.
“This liberation does not mean the end of the war, and does not mean the end of the schemes, not the end of terrorism or the surrender of enemies. … It means that we rubbed their noses in the dirt as a prelude for complete victory,” he said.
Assad said the fight to liberate all of Aleppo along with neighboring rebel-controlled Idlib province will continue, despite the “empty noise” from the North — a reference to Turkey, which borders both provinces and has backed the rebels.
Turkey has sent troops and equipment into Idlib to try to hold off the Syrian military advance, while Turkish diplomats are in Moscow for talks with Russia, Assad’s biggest ally.
A statement from the Turkish Foreign Ministry Monday “stressed the need to quickly reduce tensions on the field and to prevent further deterioration of the humanitarian situation.”
Syrian forces backed by Russian air power have taken control over most of Aleppo, seizing about 30 villages on Sunday. Aleppo city had been the target of frequent rebel rocket fire.