German lawyers seek criminal case against Syria's Assad
Targeted bombing of hospitals and civilian areas in Aleppo cited as evidence of atrocities by the Syrian military
Many civilians in Aleppo are facing starvation amid the government's bombardment [Reuters]
A group of lawyers in Germany is planning to launch a case against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad for alleged war crimes committed by his forces and foreign allies in the Syrian province of Aleppo.
The lawyers on Monday presented a criminal complaint against Assad, which they are submitting to German federal prosecutors.
German law allows international prosecutions on the principle of "universal jurisdiction", under which countries can pursue foreigners for crimes committed abroad.
The lawyers cited reports from the human rights organisation Amnesty International and individual accounts by asylum seekers in Germany in arguing there is overwhelming evidence of multiple atrocities committed by Assad's forces against civilians in Aleppo between April and November.
He cited the targeted bombing of hospitals, cluster bombs used on civilians, and forced expulsion.
UN human rights chief Zeid Ra'ad said the government's siege and bombings of rebel-held east Aleppo constituted "crimes of historic proportions", which have caused heavy civilian casualties amounting to war crimes.
He also said the case should be referred to the International Criminal Court.
The prosecution bid came as Syrian rebels who had controlled all of the east of the key northern city Aleppo lost a substantial portion of their territory to a major government offensive backed by Russian air strikes and foreign fighters.
Russia's Defence Ministry said on Monday that Syrian government troops captured 10 neighbourhoods and more than 3,000 buildings from rebels in Aleppo.
The ministry said in a statement that more than 100 rebels laid down their weapons and withdrew from the Syrian city's eastern suburbs. The ministry also said government forces had pushed the rebels from al-Qadisia, which it described as the "key neighbourhood of eastern Aleppo".
The government's push - backed by thousands of Shia militia fighters from Lebanon, Iraq, and Iran, and under the occasional cover of the Russian air force - has laid waste to Aleppo's east.
Thousands of residents have fled to safety in government and Kurdish-controlled areas of the city.
Aleppo battle: UN alarm as 16,000 civilians flee government advance
The Syrian Arab Red Crescent and local NGOs are helping the displaced, the UN says
Up to 16,000 civilians have been displaced by the Syrian government's advance into besieged rebel-held areas of the city of Aleppo, the UN says.
Humanitarian chief Stephen O'Brien said thousands more were likely to flee if the fighting continued to spread and intensify in the coming days.
He expressed concern about their fate, calling the situation deeply alarming.
Troops and militiamen have retaken more than a third of the rebel-held eastern half of Aleppo since the weekend.
Overnight, at least 18 people were killed in government air strikes on the remaining rebel-held areas, including 12 in the Shaar district near the new northern frontline, according to a UK-based monitoring group.
Another 10 died in an air strike in the Bab al-Nairab area on Tuesday morning, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights added.
An opposition activist network said a group of displaced civilians had been targeted and it put the death toll at 25.
Aleppo was Syria's largest city and its commercial and industrial hub before the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad began in 2011.
It has been divided in roughly two for the past four years, with the government controlling the west and rebels the east.
But in the past year, Syrian troops have broken the deadlock with the help of Iranian-backed Shia Muslim militias and Russian air strikes.
In early September they reinstated a siege of the east, trapping the 275,000 people living there, and launched an all-out assault later that month.
Syrian government forces have been besieging rebel-held Aleppo since early September
The government's aerial bombardment has reportedly killed hundreds of people in recent months
Government forces stepped up their offensive two weeks ago and broke through the rebel lines on Saturday. By Monday, they had recaptured the entire northern half of the rebel enclave.
"It's something that can't be imagined," Ahmad Aziz, a resident of a rebel-held area told the BBC. "We are witnessing the worst days ever. We can't move and see each other because of crazy shelling."
Mr O'Brien said he was "extremely concerned about the fate of civilians as a result of the deeply alarming and chilling situation unfolding in Aleppo".
"Intensified ground fighting and indiscriminate aerial bombardment over the past few days in eastern Aleppo city has reportedly killed and injured scores of civilians," he added. "There are no functioning hospitals left, and official food stocks are practically finished."
At the same time, Mr O'Brien noted, indiscriminate rebel shelling of civilian areas of government-controlled western Aleppo had killed civilians and displaced more than 20,000 in recent weeks.
Mr O'Brien said initial reports indicated that up to 16,000 people had fled their homes in eastern Aleppo in the past few days for government- and Kurdish-controlled districts, or other rebel-held areas.
Some 275,000 people were living in rebel-held east Aleppo before the government's advance
The government used coaches to take people from the recaptured Jabal Badro district
The Syrian Arab Red Crescent and local non-governmental organisations were helping the displaced, and the UN was ready to deliver aid to rebel-held Aleppo, he added.
A spokeswoman for the UN high commissioner for human rights separately expressed concern that displaced people perceived to have links or connections to rebel groups might be detained by government or Kurdish forces.
Peaceful activists and relatives of rebels have been punished in the past for their provision of support to what the government considers terrorists, she added.
The parties to the conflict in Syria, Mr O'Brien said, had "shown time and again" that they were "willing to take any action to secure military advantage even if it means killing, maiming or starving civilians into submission in the process".
Now at last, he pleaded, it was time to "restore basic humanity in Syria".
-More details on recent events in Aleppo are here and here.
-More details on the truly desperate plight of civilians in east Aleppo is here (trigger warnings apply to this link: violence, genocide, violence against children).
-Backgound on the conflict and the (many) parties involved can be found here and here.
OP: As I have said in previous posts, I think that it's important to note that this is a conflict where no one's hands are clean. The Assad regime's crimes against humanity have been documented, while US-backed rebel groups are also guilty of crimes against humanity, according to Amnesty International.
OP: I just wish governments would start caring about human rights.