A Syrian monitoring group alleged Tuesday that rebels are preventing dozens of families from fleeing eastern Aleppo as Russian-backed government forces intensify their bombardment of the besieged quarter, the AP reports. Such claims are difficult to verify and often distorted due to propaganda, but Syrian and Russian state media maintain rebels are holding the enclave's 275,000 remaining inhabitants hostage to use as human shields, even as the government's air force pounds the eastern part of the city's hospitals and first responder groups. A resident of Aleppo's front-line Sheikh Maqsoud neighborhood corroborated the report by the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights group.
Hajj Mohammed al-Jasim tells the AP his uncles' families were trying to cross from the Bustan al-Basha neighborhood in the east to the predominantly Kurdish enclave of Sheikh Maqsoud. He says his relatives told him they were prepared to cross during the day but were advised by three rebel groups to wait until dark. "Then in the evening, [the rebels] began to fire at the crossing" to prevent passage, he notes. He adds about 50 families were waiting to cross. The autonomous Kurdish defense forces, the YPG, have promised housing in Sheikh Maqsoud to any families who cross, or will secure passage to two towns north of Aleppo, according to al-Jasim. The UN's chief humanitarian official said Monday the conditions had gone "from terrible to terrifying and now barely survivable." (More Aleppo stories.)