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Optimism in East Aleppo Because Guns Have Fallen Silent, Says UN Official

This undated handout photo released by the Russian Defence Ministry claims to show a Russian Military engineer distributing juice to local children in Aleppo, Syria. Credit: AP

This undated handout photo released by the Russian Defence Ministry claims to show a Russian Military engineer distributing juice to local children in Aleppo, Syria. Credit: AP

United Nations: A senior UN humanitarian official working in the Syrian city of Aleppo said Wednesday that combat damage in the former rebel-held eastern districts is enormous but there is a sense of optimism because the guns have fallen silent – at least for now.

Sajjad Malik, humanitarian coordinator in the city that was once Syria’s business hub, told UN correspondents by audio link that people in Aleppo have put their hopes in the peace process that brought the ceasefire under which rebels gave up the city’s eastern areas last month after weeks of battering by troops loyal to President Bashar Assad.

So many previous ceasefires have failed, he said, “but this time somehow they feel that maybe the international community will stick around and maybe they will be able to reclaim their lives and livelihoods.”

Malik said the UN got into eastern Aleppo on New Year’s Day and since then 106 staff members have been going in and out trying to meet the needs of people who survived almost six years of conflict.

“Nothing prepared us for what we saw inside there,” Malik said. “The destruction is at a level that is hard to imagine.”

But one encouraging thing was that amid the rubble, children were coming out to play and people were starting to talk about reclaiming their lives, he said.

“The immediate and urgent needs are enormous,” Malik said, including cleaning up huge amounts of rubble, addressing concerns about families that have been separated and getting youngsters traumatised by war back to school for the first time in more than five years.

“What we’re doing is just the beginning,” he stressed, adding that the UN has asked for reinforcements to cope with the urgent needs.

“Aleppo’s reconstruction is going to take a much longer time and way more resources than we have right now,” Malik said. “Even in the medium-term we’re going to need more resources.”

He said the UN can now operate in all but one district of eastern Aleppo where explosives are being cleared. Some 20,000 people are receiving hot meals twice a day and 40,000 are getting fresh-baked bread, and there are also seven mobile clinics and 12 mobile teams visiting east Aleppo every day, he said.

Malik said of the 116,000 recently displaced people from east Aleppo, roughly 80,000 went to the government-controlled western part of the city and 36,000 went to rebel-held Idlib, some under the cease-fire deal brokered by Russia and Turkey.

Malik said he couldn’t estimate the population in east Aleppo but he said there are about 1.5 million people in the city as a whole, including 400,000 internally displaced people who came to western Aleppo and have been supported by the N and its partners in recent years.

Some four million people lived in the city before Syria’s civil war erupted in 2011, with various rebel groups fighting to oust Assad and his government.

(AP)