Staffan de Mistura, UN special envoy for Syria, says Aleppo is facing total destruction. Photograph: Martial Trezzini/EPA
The whole of rebel-held eastern Aleppo could be destroyed by Christmas if the “cruel, constant” Russian-backed bombing of the Syrian city continues, the UN special envoy for Syria has warned.
In a passionate personal appeal from Geneva on Thursday, Staffan de Mistura said the scale of human tragedy in the besieged part of the city was huge, and the world needed to avert “another Srebrenica, another Rwanda”.
He said he was willing to go personally to eastern Aleppo to escort up to 1,000 Islamist fighters out of the city if it would mean a halt to the bombardment by Russian and Syrian forces.
History would judge Syria and Russia harshly, he added, if they used the presence of about 900 former Jabhat al-Nusra fighters as an “easy alibi” to destroy the besieged area and kill thousands of the 275,000 citizens – 100,000 of whom are children.
“The bottom line is in a maximum of two months, two and a half months, the city of eastern Aleppo at this rate may be totally destroyed, and thousands of Syrian civilians, not terrorists, will be killed, many wounded and thousands will be refugees seeking to escape,” he said.
He added: “The writing on the wall is if this continues to be the pattern, at this rate this cruel, constant use of military activities, bombing, fighting, destruction will continue.”
In a question directed at the Kremlin, he asked: “Are you really ready to continue this level of fighting and de facto destroy the whole of the ancient city?” He also aimed his message at Nusra, now known as Jabhat Fatah al-Sham, saying it was “deciding the destiny of 275,0000 civilians” by refusing to leave the city.
He added: “Their [fighters’] presence should not be used an an easy alibi for the destruction of the city.” He said his personal presence would be a guarantee of their safety, saying all he could offer was his own body.
The UN humanitarian adviser, Jan Egeland, said at least 376 people had been killed and 1,266 wounded in the past two weeks in Aleppo. De Mistura said that two hospitals had been destroyed and a total of 600 patients were in need of medical evacuation.
The remarks came as Syrian government forces reportedly advanced against rebels inside Aleppo, making their biggest gains in the city in years. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said loyalist fighters now controlled about half of the Bustan al-Basha district near the centre of the divided metropolis.
“It’s the most important advance for the regime in Aleppo since 2013,” said Observatory director Rami Abdurrahman.
On the diplomatic front, De Mistura said the decision of the Americans and Russians to suspend bilateral cooperation over Syria was a serious setback. But he insisted the International Syria Support group, a wider group of countries trying to reach a ceasefire, including its UN-backed humanitarian task force, should not be disbanded.
The French foreign minister, Jean-Marc Ayrault, was in Moscow on Thursday to canvass support for a fresh UN resolution banning flights over Aleppo, the resumption of humanitarian aid, and a surveillance mechanism to oversee truce violations and public international law.
His chances of success are deemed slim. The US and the Russia have suspended discussions on a ceasefire as each side accused the other of bad faith over the collapse of the latest attempt at a ceasefire.