UN body says Aleppo rebels may be using civilians as shields

Fateh al-Sham Front, Ahrar al-Sham rebel groups specifically implicated

ALEPPO - The UN's Commission of Inquiry for Syria (COI) said Wednesday it had received reports that opposition fighters were blocking civilians from fleeing Aleppo and using them as human shields.
In a statement, the COI said it had "allegations of opposition groups... preventing civilians from leaving as well as opposition fighters embedding themselves within the civilian population, thus heightening the risk to civilians of being killed or injured".
It specifically implicated Al-Qaeda's former affiliate Fateh al-Sham Front, and the powerful Ahrar al-Sham rebel group.
The COI, an independent investigative body set up by the UN in 2011, collects evidence on human rights law violations committed during Syria's civil war.
In October, the UN human rights council mandated the COI to launch a special investigation into the Aleppo crisis.
Since then, government troops and their allies have waged a brutal offensive on Syria's second city pushing the rebel resistance to the brink of collapse.
The COI also noted the grave allegations levelled against pro-government forces in Aleppo, including "summary executions, arbitrary arrests, enforced disappearances and forced conscription".
The commission said Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's government was now in "effective control" of eastern Aleppo, a former rebel stronghold, and therefore had "primary responsibility" for ensuring that violations in the city are stopped.
And, with the deal struck late Tuesday for the evacuation of rebels from Aleppo on hold, the COI echoed a call made across the humanitarian community that civilians be allowed to leave conflict zones safely.
"At this critical moment, the illusion that military victory is still possible must be discouraged," the commission's statement said.