Russia sets brief ceasefire for Aleppo as strikes kill 36
Russian and Syrian forces will halt hostilities for eight hours in the eastern districts of Aleppo, Russia's military announced yesterday, a day on which opposition activists said their air strikes killed at least 36 people, including several children, in and around the divided city.
The two militaries will observe a "humanitarian pause" between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. on October 20 to allow civilians and militants safe passage out of the city, Lt Gen Sergei Rudskoi of Russia's general staff said in Moscow. Militants, the wounded and sick would be allowed to evacuate to the neighbouring rebel-held province of Idlib.
UN humanitarian officials have pleaded with combatants to observe weekly 48-hour ceasefires to allow humanitarian relief into the city's besieged eastern districts, but Russian and Syrian forces have only escalated their aerial and ground assault on the rebel-held areas in recent weeks. The air strikes have claimed hundreds of lives, wounded many, flattened apartment buildings and laid waste to the already crippled medical sector.
But Russian and Syrian leaders are now capitalizing on a proposal made by the UN's envoy earlier this month to allow al-Qaeda-linked militants to leave in exchange for peace and local administration for the eastern districts.
Rebels in the east, along with many residents, spurned the proposition, citing their distrust of the government side. And Russia vetoed a UN Security Council resolution mandating an immediate ceasefire.
Yesterday's announcement did not include any promises of an extended ceasefire or local administration. It followed a bloody day of air strikes on rebel-held districts in and around Aleppo.
At least 23 people were killed in air strike that also wounded dozens in the village of Oweijel, just west of Aleppo, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. Another monitoring group, the Local Coordination Committees, said the air raid was carried out by Russian warplanes and put the death toll at 30.
A MAJOR OPERATION
More than a dozen people were also killed in the Marjeh neighbourhood in eastern Aleppo. The Aleppo Media Center, an activist collective, 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.
The Observatory said at least 50 civilians, including 18 children, were killed in air strikes on the eastern part of the city in the 24 hours before the Russian announcement.
Yesterday's air strikes coincided with the launch in neighbouring Iraq of a major operation by Iraqi and Kurdish forces, backed by the US-led coalition, to retake the northern city of Mosul from the Islamic State group. There have been concerns the government in Damascus could use the timing of the Mosul offensive to press its onslaught in Aleppo while world attention is diverted to developments in Iraq.