Truce ex­tended in Aleppo but UN de­lays evac­u­a­tions

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

ALEPPO: The UN said yes­ter­day se­cu­rity con­cerns had forced it to de­lay planned evac­u­a­tions from Syria’s Aleppo, as Russia ex­tended a truce that was largely hold­ing for a sec­ond day. Moscow said it was ex­tend­ing the uni­lat­eral “hu­man­i­tar­ian pause” in the Syr­ian gov­ern­ment’s Rus­sian-backed as­sault on op­po­si­tion-held east Aleppo un­til 1600 GMT to­day. But there was no sign that civil­ians or rebels were heed­ing calls to leave, with Damascus and Moscow ac­cus­ing op­po­si­tion fight­ers of pre­vent­ing evac­u­a­tions.

East Aleppo, which the rebels cap­tured in 2012, has been un­der siege by the army since mid-July and has faced dev­as­tat­ing bom­bard­ment by the gov­ern­ment and its ally Russia since the launch of an of­fen­sive to re­take the whole city on Septem­ber 22. Nearly 500 peo­ple have been killed, more than a quar­ter of them chil­dren, since the as­sault be­gan. More than 2,000 civil­ians have been wounded. The scale of the ca­su­al­ties has prompted out­rage in the West, with Wash­ing­ton say­ing the bom­bard­ment amounted to a pos­si­ble war crime.

Russia an­nounced a halt to its air strikes from Tues­day and the uni­lat­eral cease­fire from Thurs­day. The Syr­ian army says it has opened eight cor­ri­dors across the front line for the more than 250,000 civil­ians in rebel-held ar­eas to leave, but so far al­most none have taken up the of­fer. “There has been no move­ment in the cor­ri­dors in the east­ern district. For the mo­ment, we haven’t seen any move­ment of res­i­dents or fight­ers,” said Rami Ab­del Rah­man, head of the Syr­ian Ob­ser­va­tory for Hu­man Rights.

‘Threats pre­vent­ing evac­u­a­tions’

Syr­ian state me­dia ac­cused rebels of pre­vent­ing peo­ple from leav­ing the city’s op­po­si­tion-held sec­tor. And Rus­sian For­eign Min­is­ter Sergei Lavrov said fight­ers were us­ing “threats, black­mail and brute force” to pre­vent civil­ians and rebels evac­u­at­ing. The United Na­tions had hoped to use the truce to evac­u­ate in­jured peo­ple from Aleppo, and pos­si­bly de­liver aid. But yes­ter­day af­ter­noon, a spokesman said the op­er­a­tion had been de­layed be­cause of se­cu­rity con­cerns.

“Med­i­cal evac­u­a­tions of sick and in­jured could un­for­tu­nately not be­gin this morn­ing as planned be­cause the nec­es­sary con­di­tions were not in place,” said Jens Laerke, spokesman for the United Na­tions hu­man­i­tar­ian of­fice OCHA. David Swan­son, an OCHA spokesman in Turkey’s Gaziantep, told AFP a four-day plan had been drawn up to be­gin with two days of evac­u­a­tions to west Aleppo, rebel-held Idlib or Turkey.

If suc­cess­ful, the plan would then see aid de­liv­ered for another two days along­side con­tin­u­ing evac­u­a­tions. No aid has en­tered Aleppo since July 7 and food ra­tions will run out by the end of Oc­to­ber, UN chief Ban Ki-moon warned on Thurs­day. The Syr­ian op­po­si­tion Na­tional Coali­tion and rebel Free Syr­ian Army crit­i­cized UN pol­icy in a state­ment, say­ing it “plays into the As­sad regime’s plans to empty Aleppo”. It ac­cused the world body of be­com­ing a “tool in the hands of Russia”.

‘Crimes of his­toric pro­por­tions’

Moscow and Damascus have called on civil­ians to leave so that their of­fen­sive can fo­cus on for­mer Al-Qaeda af­fil­i­ate the Fateh Al-Sham Front and the re­cap­ture of east Aleppo. Yes­ter­day af­ter­noon, rebel fire into west Aleppo killed one per­son and wounded three, Syr­ian state me­dia said. Moscow has shown no sign of wind­ing down its in­ter­ven­tion, de­spite crit­i­cism of the civil­ian death toll and al­le­ga­tions that hos­pi­tals have been hit.A Rus­sian air­craft car­rier bat­tle group was in the Chan­nel be­tween Eng­land and France Fri­day en route from the Baltic to the east­ern Mediter­ranean. Yes­ter­day, UN hu­man rights chief Zeid Ra’ad Al Hus­sein de­nounced the siege and bom­bard­ment of Aleppo as “crimes of his­toric pro­por­tions” at a spe­cial ses­sion of the UN hu­man rights coun­cil in Geneva. West­ern gov­ern­ments have also de­nounced the vi­o­lence, but have been di­vided over how to re­spond. Af­ter meet­ing in Brussels on Thurs­day, Euro­pean Union lead­ers backed down from an ex­plicit threat of sanc­tions against Russia but warned they would con­sider “all avail­able op­tions” if atrocities con­tinue. Damascus, mean­while, warned Turkey af­ter a se­ries of deadly strikes against Syr­ian Kur­dish fight­ers in the north of the coun­try. In a state­ment, the army threat­ened to “down by all avail­able means” Turk­ish air­craft vi­o­lat­ing Syr­ian airspace. — AFP

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