Spectre of Srebrenica as US warns of massacre in Aleppo
Rebels stockpile arms and medicines as Syrian forces start bombarding country's second city
THERE are fears that as an estimated billion people prepare to watch the opening ceremony at the London Games, a massacre is about to take place in Syria's second city, Aleppo.
Rebels in Aleppo have been stockpiling arms and medicines in readiness for a major attack today or tomorrow by Syrian forces. Many residents are fleeing. Reuters reports renewed aerial bombardment this morning by Syrian fighter jets. The US State Department reports tank columns, helicopter gunships and fixed-winged aircraft massing for an attack.
The United States says it fears a massacre, while UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon has raised the spectre of Srebrenica, when 8,000 Bosnian Muslims died in 1995, in the worst atrocity of the Bosnian conflict.
"I do not want to see any of my successors, after 20 years, visiting Syria, apologising for what we could have done now to protect the civilians in Syria - which we are not doing now," Ban said during a visit to Srebrenica when he laid flowers at a memorial to the victims, mainly men and boys, whom the UN failed to protect.
State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said: "Our hearts are with the people of Aleppo." But despite the "serious escalation" in the Syrian conflict, she said the US would not intervene beyond providing non-lethal support - communications equipment and medical supplies – to the rebels.
"We do not believe that pouring more fuel on this fire is going to save lives," she said.
However, Reuters says it has learned that the White House has drawn up a presidential directive - called a "finding" - that would authorise greater covert assistance for the Syrian rebels, while stopping short of arming them.
"It is not clear whether President Barack Obama has signed the document, and US officials declined to comment on the finding, which is a highly classified authorisation for covert activity," said Reuters.
Aleppo, larger than Damascus, is Syria's economic and manufacturing centre. As The Guardian reports, its 2.5 million population has swollen as refugees from the 16-month conflict, and from the rural drought, have taken shelter there.
The city lies on the old Silk Road and its 13th-century citadel and covered market are part of a Unesco world heritage site. Tourism, once an important source of revenue, has been decimated.
BBC correspondent Ian Pannell, reporting today from outside Aleppo, said: "We are hearing reports of hundreds, possibly thousands of families leaving some districts. Everybody is bracing themselves for an intensive campaign."
If the Syrian armed forces follow previous tactics, Pannell expects bloodshed after the initial bombardment. "When it starts to go calm, tanks begin to roll in. This is a very congested heavily populated area, so it will be bloody."
He said it was "almost inconceivable" that President Assad could allow his government to lose control of Aleppo. "It is reasonable to expect that they are going to throw everything they possibly can at the city."