Testimonies From Aleppo: 'Waiting for Death,' Syrians Voice Final Pleas to 'Save Our Children'

Amid reports of regime massacre, residents issue calls for help, saying those who remain face execution or arrest once government forces reach them.

A man carries a child as he flees deeper into the remaining rebel-held areas of Aleppo, Syria December 12, 2016.
ABDALRHMAN ISMAIL/REUTERS

Civilians and insurgents trapped in a tiny heavily bombarded enclave in Syria's Aleppo issued heartbreaking last ditch calls for help as they prepared to face a dire fate on Tuesday as the Syrian army closed in on the city the UN has described as a "complete meltdown of humanity."

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Aleppo is being destroyed and burned completely,” the Guardian quoted a doctor trapped in the area, Mohammad Abu Rajab, as saying in a voice message. 

“This is a final distress call to the world. Save the lives of these children and women and old men. Save them. Nobody is left. You might not hear our voice after this. It is the last call, the last call to every free person in this world. Save the city of Aleppo.”

The UN children's agency said many unaccompanied children, possibly more than 100, are trapped in a building under heavy attack in the besieged eastern part of Aleppo.

"According to alarming reports from a doctor in the city, many children, possibly more than 100, unaccompanied or separated from their families, are trapped in a building, under heavy attack in east Aleppo," UNICEF Regional Director Geert Cappelaere said.

 Syrian residents flee violence in Aleppo's eastern al-Salihin neighborhood on December 12, 2016 after regime troops retook the area from rebel fighters.
George Ourfalian, AFP

Rebels withdrew from all districts on the east side of the Aleppo river on Monday afternoon after losing Sheikh Saeed in the south of their pocket in earlier fighting. The Syrian army and its allies said they are in the "last moments before declaring victory" in as rebel defenses in the city collapsed

In messages and tweets, residents called for help and said their goodbyes. 

Abdulkafi al-Hamdo, a teacher who has been documenting the destruction of the city on Twitter and in communication with reporters, described the non-stop bombardment as a "doomsday" situation.

State television footage from Saliheen, one of the districts that had just fallen to the army, showed mounds of rubble and half-collapsed buildings, with bodies still lying on the ground and a few bewildered civilians carrying children or suitcases.

Families in Aleppo were “waiting for death together,” Hamdo said a text message to reporters, according to the New York Times

“People are running, don’t know where,” he wrote. “People are under the rubble alive, and no one can save them. Some people are injured in the streets, and no one can go to help them cuz the bombs are always on the same place.”

"Please save my daughter's life and others," he said in a tweet. "This is a call from a father."

Russia has said that more than 100,000 have fled to government-held areas, and 2,200 rebel fighters have surrendered. But thousands are still believed to be trapped in the enclave.

Opposition activists circulated reports of massacres as President Bashar Assad's forces seized control.

Activists and two residents inside the remaining rebel enclave said at least 79 civilians were summarily executed in the Fardous and Saliheen districts by pro-government militias. 

A man pushes a cart carrying an elderly woman and belongings as they flee deeper into the remaining rebel-held areas of Aleppo, Syria December 12, 2016.
Abdalrhman Ismail, Reuters

"There are more than 100 corpses and others who could be still alive under the rubble whom no one is able to get to," said civil defense chief Ammar al Selmo. 

The White Helmets civil defense organization and three other trapped aid groups made a desperate appeal for the international community to arrange safe passage for civilians to areas of Syria still under rebel control. 

"If we stay, we fear for our lives. The women may be taken to camps, the men disappeared and anyone who is known to have supported civilians will face detention or execution," they said in a Monday statement time stamped 9 P.M. (1900 GMT).

Hisham al-Skeif, a civilian member of the local council that had tried to govern the rebel-held areas of Aleppo, voiced frustration that no international officials were in touch with the trapped civilians, keeping contact with rebel leaders instead. 

“All the political activists and the media, the relief workers, the unarmed, we are about 1,000, including our families,” Skeif was quoted by the New York Times as saying. "If the regime entered, we will be slaughtered. Of course everybody is negotiating with those who are armed, but we are not armed.”

“The armed can defend themselves, but we can’t,” he added.

Rebel groups in Aleppo received a U.S.-Russian proposal on Sunday for a withdrawal of fighters and civilians from the city's opposition areas, but Moscow said no agreement had been reached yet in talks in Geneva to end the crisis peacefully.

The U.S. State Department said Russia had turned down the U.S. proposal for an immediate cease-fire and said it could not start for several days. 

Aleppo, which was Syria's most populous city before the war would be Assad's greatest prize so far after nearly six years of conflict. 

While Aleppo's fall would deal a stunning blow to rebels trying to remove Assad from power, he would still be far from restoring control across Syria. Swathes of the country remain in rebel hands, and Islamic State retook Palmyra on Sunday. 

Tens of thousands of civilians remain in rebel-held areas, hemmed in by ever-changing front lines, pounded by airstrikes and shelling, and without basic supplies, according to the Observatory, a British-based monitoring group.