With Syrian forces pounding rebel-held areas of Aleppo with helicopter gunships on Friday, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon says he fears another massacre on the scale of Srebrenica.
The international community, the United Nations, failed 20 years ago in Srebrenica and Rwanda,” the Secretary-General said in an interview with Channel 4 News. “In 20 years’ time I do not want any of my successors to repeat the same apology for the failures which we could have prevented.”
Activists says 19,000 people have already been killed in Syria since the uprising began 17 months ago. Fighting intensified on Friday with a ground and air bombardment of Aleppo followed by random shelling. Aleppo is Syria’s largest city with a population of almost 3m.
Syrian troops stationed on the outskirts of Aleppo unleashed heavy-calibre mortar rounds on western neighbourhoods while Russian-built MI-25 helicopter gunships struck in the east, opposition activists said. The fighting there has raged for a week.
Mr Ban told Channel 4 News he feared Syria was laying the ground in Aleppo for a slaughter of civilians akin to Srebrenica, where some 8,000 Bosnian Muslims were massacred in 1995. He visited the site yesterday.
“When I was meeting the family, the relatives of the victims, my thoughts immediately went to people in Syria,” he said. “I am very much troubled to see what is still happening in Syria.”
The Secretary met Foreign Secretary William Hague in London on Friday for talks aimed at ending Syria’s civil war.
Mr Hague called the assault on Aleppo an “utterly unacceptable escalation” of the conflict.
“I am deeply concerned by reports that the Syrian government is amassing its troops and tanks around Aleppo, and has already begun a vicious assault on the city and its civilian population,” he said.
“This utterly unacceptable escalation of the conflict could lead to a devastating loss of civilian life and a humanitarian disaster.”
Thousands of Aleppo residents are reported to have fled ahead of an expected assault.
The US state department also said it feared Assad’s forces were preparing to carry out a massacre in Aleppo. The pro-government al-Watan newspaper warned that the “mother of all battles” was about to start.
President Bashar al-Assad has reasserted his grip on power with blistering attacks on both the capital of Damascus and Aleppo. His position has been increasingly threatened with the assassination of two of his top defence ministers in Damascus and a series of military defections.
The former head of the UN observer mission in Syria said it was “only a matter of time” until President Assad’s government falled. But Norwegian Maj Gen Robert Mood said his fall would not necessarily mean an end to the conflict.
“In my opinion it is only a matter of time before a regime that is using such heavy military power and disproportional violence against the civilian population is going to fall,” Maj Gen Mood told Reuters.