Russia announces eight-hour ‘humanitarian pause’ in Aleppo
MOSCOW // Russian forces and Syrian regime troops will briefly halt fire in Aleppo on Thursday, Moscow said on Monday, as criticism mounted of the ferocious Russia-backed assault on the city.
“We have taken a decision not to waste time and to introduce ‘humanitarian pauses’, mainly for the free passage of civilians, evacuation of the sick and wounded and withdrawal of fighters,” said senior Russian military officer Sergey Rudskoi.
Thursday’s so-called “pause” will run from 8am to 4pm local time (5am GMT to 1pm GMT) “in the area of Aleppo”, he added.
“During this period the Russian air force and Syrian government troops will halt air strikes and firing from any other types of weapons.”
Mr Rudskoi said the initiative comes as Russia, the United Nations and “countries with influence” continue to work on a plan for getting the extremist group Jabhat Fatah Al Sham, formerly known as Jabhat Al Nusra, to leave Aleppo.
Russia is currently conducting a fierce bombing campaign in support of a regime offensive to recapture rebel-held eastern Aleppo.
The European Union blasted Russia on Monday for causing “untold suffering” and said that air strikes by Moscow and Damascus in Aleppo “may amount to war crimes”.
Saudi foreign minister Adel Al Jubeir, meanwhile, said Riyadh was working on increasing the flow of arms to moderate Syrian rebels in the northern city.
Last Thursday Moscow said it was ready to guarantee safe passage for rebel fighters out of eastern Aleppo along a corridor on the Castello Road, the main potential route for humanitarian assistance into the city.
Airstrikes on rebel-held areas of Aleppo province killed at least 36 people on Monday, including children, opposition activists said.
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Most of the deaths were in the village of Oweijel just west of the city of Aleppo, where at least 23 people were killed in an airstrike that also wounded dozens, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based opposition monitoring group. Another monitoring group the Local Coordination Committees said the air raid was carried out by Russian warplanes and put the death toll at 30.
More than a dozen people were also killed in a rebel-held neighbourhood of Aleppo city, which the Observatory named as the Marjeh neighbourhood. The Aleppo Media Centre, an activist group, said those killed included 11 people with the same family name of Qabs ranging from a month-and-a-half-old baby girl to a 25-year-old man.
Syrian state media also claimed that 49 rebels were killed and wounded in fighting in the southern Aleppo neighbourhoods of Sheikh Saeed and Shurfa.
In the nearby province of Idlib, a drone belonging to the US-led anti-ISIL coalition struck a car in Idlib city, killing all inside. It was not immediately clear who was in the vehicle, but such attacks have previously targeted officials with Jabhat Fatah Al Sham.
All this comes as the Syrian government appears to be trying to improve relations with Egypt, following the first public meeting between Egyptian and Syrian security chiefs.
Maj Gen Ali Mamlouk, head of the National Security Bureau and one of president Bashar Al Assad’s top aides, visited Cairo on Sunday at the head of a delegation to coordinate with Egypt in the fight against “terrorism” in the region, Syria’s state-run news agency Sana said.
Sana said the Syrians met with top intelligence officials, including the deputy chief of Egypt’s intelligence agency, and that both sides agreed on “coordinating political standpoints” and strengthening the “cooperation in fighting terrorism”.
Egypt’s pro-government Sada Al Balad news website and other news websites reported on Sunday that six Syrians had arrived on a private jet from Damascus.
Earlier this month, Egypt voted for rival French and Russian draft resolutions on Syria at the UN Security Council, arguing that both called for a truce and for aid for besieged Syrians in Aleppo.
The move angered Egypt’s major financial backer Saudi Arabia, which supports rebels fighting Mr Al Assad’s Moscow-backed government.
Egypt and Syria are both fighting extremists, including members of ISIL.
* Agence France-Presse, Reuters, Associated Press
Updated: October 17, 2016 04:00 AM