Concerns are growing over the fate of residents in the besieged city of Aleppo as Bashar al-Assad's troops have begun bombarding Syria's largest city and commercial hub.
International leaders are growing increasingly concerned for those residing in Aleppo as Syrian troops have begun hitting the city with artillery and aircraft as they amass reinforcements to take on the outnumbered rebels.
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay expressed her concern for the residents of Aleppo. The "reported build-up of forces in and around Aleppo, bodes ill for the people of that city ... it goes without saying, that the increasing use of heavy weapons, tanks, attack helicopters and - reportedly - even jet fighters in urban areas has already caused many civilian casualties," she said.
Pillay, a former UN war crimes judge, also said that murder or "willful" killing, whether committed by government or opposition forces, may constitute crimes against humanity or war crimes.
"Those who are committing them should not believe that they will escape justice," she added.
Two weeks of mounting death tolls
Aleppo has been a pro-Assad stronghold, but rebels have recently taken control of several neighborhoods. With tanks and troops gathering outside the city, however, many fear that the death toll, currently at 145 rebels in the last six days, will quickly rise.
In the past two weeks, Assad's troops have been dealing with rebel assaults in Damascus and now in Aleppo, as well as high-profile defections and a rebel bomb that killed four of Assad’s top security officials.
Assad's troops hit back hard, however, using heavy weaponry and house-to-house searches to quash the rebel’s efforts. Scores of people were killed in the capital, and opposition activists say they now expect similar tactics by government forces in Aleppo.
World leaders express concern
Other world leaders have also chimed in with their growing concerns. British Foreign Secretary William Hague and UN Security General Ban Ki-Moon, for example, have both called on Assad to pull out of Aleppo.
"I am deeply concerned by reports that the Syrian government is amassing its troops and tanks around Aleppo, and has already begun a vicious assault on the city and its civilians," Hague said at the opening of the Olympics in London Friday.
Ban added that "the violence from both sides must stop for the sake of the suffering civilians of Syria."
The conflict in Syria is now in its 17th month. Activists believe more than 150 people are killed in Syria every day, but July is set to become the bloodiest month of the uprising so far, with an estimated 19,000 having died since March 2011.
tm/mr (AP, Reuters)