Rus­sia and Syria halt Aleppo strikes ahead of brief truce

An 8-hour ‘hu­man­i­tar­ian pause’ in bat­tered city

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

MOS­COW: Mos­cow an­nounced yes­ter­day that Rus­sian and Syr­ian air forces have stopped bomb­ing Aleppo ahead of a brief truce, a move the Krem­lin said showed “good­will” as it faces mount­ing crit­i­cism for back­ing a bru­tal regime of­fen­sive. Rus­sia had said there would be an eight-hour “hu­man­i­tar­ian pause” in the bat­tered city to­mor­row, a move wel­comed by the United Na­tions and the Euro­pean Union which nev­er­the­less said the cease­fire needed to be longer to al­low the de­liv­ery of aid. The UN said yes­ter­day it was wait­ing for safety as­sur­ances from all sides be­fore go­ing in with “crit­i­cal hu­man­i­tar­ian as­sis­tance” for Aleppo’s des­per­ate pop­u­la­tion.

The West has voiced in­creas­ing alarm at the sit­u­a­tion in Aleppo, say­ing the fe­ro­cious Rus­sian­backed on­slaught on the rebel-held east could amount to a war crime. “Strikes in the Aleppo re­gion by the Rus­sian and Syr­ian air forces are stop­ping to­day start­ing at 10:00 am,” Rus­sian De­fense Min­is­ter Sergei Shoigu said in a tele­vised brief­ing, adding that the mea­sure was “nec­es­sary” to pave the way for the truce. “This guar­an­tees the se­cu­rity of civil­ians’ exit through six cor­ri­dors and pre­pares the evac­u­a­tion of the sick and in­jured from east­ern Aleppo,” he said, adding that it would also guar­an­tee safe pas­sage for armed rebels to leave east­ern Aleppo.

Krem­lin spokesman Dmitry Peskov hailed the move as a “man­i­fes­ta­tion of good­will” and de­nied it was meant to as­suage Western crit­ics who have ac­cused Mos­cow of per­pe­trat­ing po­ten­tial war crimes in Syria’s sec­ond city. “This is an ob­vi­ous con­tin­u­a­tion of Rus­sian ef­forts, on the one hand, to fight ter­ror­ists in Syria, and on the other, to un­block the sit­u­a­tion in Aleppo,” Peskov told re­porters. “It is ex­clu­sively a man­i­fes­ta­tion of good­will by the Rus­sian mil­i­tary.” Raids in the east­ern neigh­bor­hoods of Aleppo have stopped since the Rus­sian an­nounce­ment, but air strikes are still be­ing con­ducted in the broader Aleppo re­gion, the Bri­tain-based mon­i­tor­ing group Syr­ian Ob­ser­va­tory for Hu­man Rights said yes­ter­day.

Un­der siege

Over 250,000 peo­ple are un­der gov­ern­ment siege in the city that was once Syria’s thriv­ing com­mer­cial hub. Yes­ter­day’s halt in bomb­ing came just hours after Rus­sian war­planes pounded Aleppo’s rebel-held dis­tricts, killing a cou­ple and their three chil­dren, the Ob­ser­va­tory said. On Mon­day, dozens of civil­ians in­clud­ing 12 mem­bers of the same fam­ily were killed in strikes against Aleppo, the mon­i­tor said.

The bru­tal gov­ern­ment of­fen­sive against east­ern Aleppo-which has de­stroyed hos­pi­tals and other civil­ian in­fra­struc­ture-has plunged Syria into some of the worst vi­o­lence since the con­flict erupted in March 2011. The Euro­pean Union said on Mon­day that the Rus­sian and Syr­ian air strikes could amount to war crimes. “The de­lib­er­ate tar­get­ing of hos­pi­tals, med­i­cal per­son­nel, schools and es­sen­tial in­fra­struc­ture, as well as the use of barrel bombs, clus­ter bombs, and chem­i­cal weapons, constitute a cat­a­strophic es­ca­la­tion of the con­flict... and may amount to war crimes,” EU for­eign min­is­ters meet­ing in Lux­em­bourg said.

They also warned that the 28-na­tion bloc could im­pose ad­di­tional sanc­tions against Da­m­as­cus, but de­cided against tar­get­ing Rus­sia de­spite US and Bri­tish calls to pun­ish Mos­cow as well. Talks in Switzer­land at the week­end in­volv­ing for­eign min­is­ters from Wash­ing­ton, Mos­cow and Syria’s neigh­bors ended with no break­through on halt­ing the vi­o­lence. The talks were the first in­ter­na­tional meet­ing on Syria since Wash­ing­ton froze bi­lat­eral cease­fire ne­go­ti­a­tions with Mos­cow over its un­wa­ver­ing sup­port of the Syr­ian regime.

A short-lived truce bro­kered by Mos­cow and Wash­ing­ton last month could have led the two coun­tries to co­or­di­nate strikes against ji­hadists, but the deal quickly un­rav­eled. Shoigu said yes­ter­day that the halt in bomb­ing could “con­trib­ute to the suc­cess” of in­ter­na­tional mil­i­tary talks in Geneva on Wed­nes­day on ef­forts to dis­tance Syr­ian op­po­si­tion fight­ers from ji­hadist group Fateh al-Sham Front, which changed its name from Al-Nusra Front after re­nounc­ing its ties to Al-Qaeda. Rus­sia has re­peat­edly de­manded that the Syr­ian rebels break off from Fateh AlSham Front, which the United Na­tions con­sid­ers a ter­ror­ist group, as a con­di­tion to re­vive a cease­fire in Aleppo. — AFP

ALEPPO: Syr­ian Civil De­fense group known as the White Hel­mets try to re­move a boy stuck in the de­bris of a build­ing in the neigh­bor­hood of Qaterji in rebel-held east Aleppo fol­low­ing an airstrike in Aleppo, Syria. — AP

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