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September 26, 2017

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Civilians flee East Aleppo as Syrian army advances

ALEPPO, Syria--More than 50,000 Syrians have joined a growing exodus of terrified civilians from east Aleppo, a monitor said Wednesday, as the U.N. Security Council was set for emergency talks on fighting in the city.

As government forces pressed an assault in the divided city, regime artillery fire killed at least 21 civilians in east Aleppo on Wednesday morning, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitor said.

Civilians have poured out of the rebel-held east in recent days, with parents carrying children and the young pushing the old in wheelchairs or makeshift carts as they flee.

Some have arrived in government-held or Kurdish-controlled territory with overstuffed suitcases and bags of their possessions, but others have come empty-handed, with only the clothes on their backs.

In the newly recaptured neighborhood of Jabal Badro, hundreds of people massed to board government buses taking people to west Aleppo.

Government forces and allied fighters have seized a third of the rebel-held east of Aleppo since they began an operation to recapture all of the battered second city just over a fortnight ago.

The loss of Aleppo would be the biggest blow for Syria's opposition since the conflict began in March 2011 with anti-government protests, before spiraling into a civil war.

The U.N. has for months sought access to the east, and earlier this month presented a plan to deliver aid and evacuate wounded and sick civilians.

But it has failed to secure agreement from the government, even as the army's siege has led to dwindling food supplies and the exhaustion of remaining international aid provisions in the east.

'Situation desperate'

The U.N. Security Council is to hold an emergency meeting later Wednesday on the situation, receiving a briefing from a U.N. humanitarian official and the U.N.'s peace envoy Staffan de Mistura.

Syria's opposition National Coalition said it was working with France on a draft U.N. resolution seeking an immediate cease-fire in Aleppo, though Russia — a staunch ally of Damascus — was likely to veto such a proposal.

As the government has advanced, more than 50,000 people have left rebel-held districts, the Observatory said Wednesday.

It said more than 20,000 people had left to government-held neighborhoods, with another 30,000 going to Kurdish-controlled districts.

Many others have travelled south into the remaining territory held by rebels.

"The situation of those fleeing is desperate," said Pawel Krzysiek, head of communications for the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in Syria.

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