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Aleppo: Reports of executions as Syrian army closes in

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UN Refugee Agency shelter for East Aleppo, Syria is displaced.

(CNN) — Forces loyal to the Syrian regime have been entering homes in the last pockets of Aleppo held by rebels and shooting people on the spot, the United Nations has said.

A spokesman for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights said he had been told that 82 civilians, including women and children, were shot in their homes or on the streets on Monday.

The grim reports came as government forces continued their advance on the last of the rebel-held neighborhoods in Aleppo, once Syria’s commercial and cultural heart. Government forces on Tuesday were in control of most of eastern Aleppo, as the four-year battle for the city neared a bloody end.

Latest developments

Around 100 children are trapped in a building under heavy attack, UNICEF says, citing a doctor there. UN said forces loyal to Bashar al-Assad killed 82 people on Monday, shot on the spot in their homes or on the street. Regime now holds almost all of the city of Aleppo, Syria’s second city and once its commercial capital. Gaining full control would mark a turning point for the regime in the country’s five-year civil war. Humanitarian groups plea for safe passage for the tens of thousands of civilians left in rebel-controlled pockets.

‘Complete meltdown of humanity’

Rupert Colville, the spokesman for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, said he had received “deeply disturbing reports” of dead bodies lying in the streets and that residents were unable to retrieve them in the intense bombardment out of “fear of being shot on sight.”

He said that 11 women and 13 children were among the 82 civilians killed Monday, in what he described as the last “hellish corner” of rebel-held Aleppo.

“While some were reportedly able to flee yesterday, some were reportedly caught and killed on the spot and others arrested,” Colville said.

“In these hours, it looks like a complete meltdown of humanity in Aleppo.”

UNICEF regional director Geert Cappelaere said that he had received “alarming reports” that “possibly more than 100 children, unaccompanied or separated from their families, are trapped in a building, under heavy attack in east Aleppo.”

“It is time for the world to stand up for the children of Aleppo and bring their living nightmare to an end,” he said.

Activists said anyone with links to the rebels who seized control of the enclave in 2012 was being hunted down.

“Every hour, butcheries are carried out,” the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

The Syrian government did not comment on the killings in state-run media.

CNN has not been able to verify the execution reports.

Aleppo on the brink

Humanitarian volunteers in Aleppo have issued a desperate plea for help and safe passage for the estimated 100,000 civilians and rebels still trapped in the city’s east, now a wasteland of carnage and rubble.

Amid the chaos, the self-styled Syria Civil Defense volunteer rescue group — also known as the White Helmets — was among groups pleading for safe passage out of Aleppo for their volunteers and civilians.

“The regime has been trying to kill us for five years,” the group said on Twitter. “Please don’t give them this chance.”

“We hear children crying, we hear calls for help, but we just can’t do anything.”

The government is poised now to take the whole of Aleppo city. It was already in control of the west and in just over two weeks has taken most of the east. Seizing the whole of Aleppo would put the government in control of all five major cities, marking a turning point in the five-year war.

Final messages

A 7-year-old girl who has been tweeting from eastern Aleppo wrote an ominous post Tuesday: “This is my last moment to either live or die.”

Another Twitter user — who goes by the user name “Mr_Alhamdo” and says he is an Aleppo resident, a “teacher, activist and reporter” in the city — posted a number of tweets bidding farewell to his followers, describing the scene as “doomsday.”.

“This is a call and might be the last call,” he said in one. “Save Aleppo people. Save my daughter and other children.”

Some of those left in the last few rebel-held towns are begging the international community to stop the regime’s advance.

“Please, go to the embassies and block the way,” said Salah Ashkar, an activist in east Aleppo, in a video posted on Twitter.

He called for people to protest at UN headquarters in their countries.

“Please, don’t let them sleep. Do it, do it, do it, do that now. There is no minute to spare. Please, please, stand with Aleppo,” he said.

But for others, the regime’s advance is cause for celebration. Syrian state-run Alikhbaria TV broadcast people chanting, firing gunshots in the air and blaring car horns with joy.

Failed attempts at peace

The bloodshed comes as the international community has failed to find a political solution to the crisis in Aleppo, which has become the epicenter of Syria’s brutal five-year war.

Russia has used its veto power several times to shoot down resolutions in the UN Security Council, and an agreement has hinged on Russia and its fiercest critic, the US, finding a middle ground.

The two nations appeared to be on the brink of an agreement in Geneva Sunday over a cessation of hostilities involving the safe evacuation of rebels and civilians and the delivery of desperately needed aid.

But US State Department spokesman John Kirby said Monday that the Russian side was putting off agreeing to the deal.

“Rather than accepting the US proposal for an immediate cessation, the Russians informed us that a cessation could not start for several days, meaning that the assault by the regime and its supporters on Aleppo would continue until any agreement would go into effect,” Kirby told a press briefing.

On Monday, Pope Francis reached out to President Assad, asking him “to ensure that international humanitarian law is fully respected with regard to the protection of the civilians and access to humanitarian aid,” according to a statement from the Vatican.

Rebel groups held eastern Aleppo for more than four years after the Arab Spring uprising and a Syrian regime siege on the area had essentially cut it off from the outside world, sparking a humanitarian crisis there.

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