Rus­sian cease­fire be­gins in Aleppo

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -


A Rus­sian-de­clared cease­fire for op­po­si­tion­held ar­eas of Syria’s sec­ond city Aleppo took ef­fect yes­ter­day, but hopes were low that civil­ians or rebels would heed calls to leave. Da­m­as­cus ally Moscow said the 10hour “hu­man­i­tar­ian pause” was an at­tempt to “pre­vent sense­less ca­su­al­ties.” But a sim­i­lar, three-day pause last month ended with only a hand­ful of peo­ple leav­ing the be­sieged rebel-held east of the city, and there was lit­tle sign many more would do so dur­ing Fri­day’s brief cease­fire. Once Syria’s economic pow­er­house, Aleppo has been dev­as­tated by fight­ing since the rebels seized the east of the city in 2012, turn­ing its his­toric heart into a bat­tle­field.

The army cut the last sup­ply route from other re­bel­held ter­ri­tory in July, leav­ing the more than 250,000 civil­ians still liv­ing in the east with­out ac­cess to de­liv­er­ies of ba­sic goods. The rebels launched a bid to break the siege last week, which they stepped up on Thurs­day. Rocket fire on gov­ern­ment-held dis­tricts killed at least 12 peo­ple, state me­dia said.

The rebels cap­tured the Dahiyet Al-As­sad neigh­bor­hood and the vil­lage of Minyan out­side west Aleppo, the Syr­ian Ob­ser­va­tory for Hu­man Rights said. The lat­est deaths brought to nearly 70 the num­ber of civil­ians killed in gov­ern­ment-held ar­eas since the rebel of­fen­sive be­gan, the Bri­tain-based mon­i­tor­ing group said. An AFP cor­re­spon­dent in east Aleppo said the front lines were quiet on Fri­day morn­ing af­ter fight­ing halted dur­ing the night. Moscow says the Syr­ian army has opened eight cross­ings on the front line for civil­ians to leave. Two of them can also be used by sur­ren­der­ing rebel fight­ers.

The Rus­sian de­fense min­istry posted what it said were live feeds from three of the cross­ings. One showed bar­rels painted with the Syr­ian flag next to a large pho­to­graph of Pres­i­dent Bashar Al-As­sad propped up by sand­bags. An­other showed wait­ing am­bu­lances while the third-which ap­peared to be filmed from a drone-showed a line of green coaches. But ex­pec­ta­tions were low that civil­ians or rebel fight­ers would take the op­por­tu­nity to leave. Civil­ians in the east, who have faced weeks of dev­as­tat­ing bom­bard­ment by the gov­ern­ment and its Rus­sian ally, have ex­pressed scep­ti­cism about the prom­ises of safe pas­sage. Moscow and Da­m­as­cus ac­cuse the rebels of pre­vent­ing residents from leav­ing.

‘Cheap ini­tia­tive’

The rebels dis­missed the lat­est cease­fire as a ploy by Moscow to de­flect in­ter­na­tional crit­i­cism of the high civil­ian death toll from its bomb­ing cam­paign. “This an­nounce­ment is worth­less... We don’t trust the Rus­sians or any of their cheap ini­tia­tives,” said Yasser Al-Youssef, a polit­buro mem­ber of the Nured­din Al-Zinki rebel brigade in Aleppo. The United Na­tions said it would not be at­tempt­ing any med­i­cal evac­u­a­tions from the rebel-held sec­tor dur­ing Fri­day’s cease­fire. UN agen­cies tried but failed to or­gan­ise evac­u­a­tion con­voys dur­ing last month’s pause. “The UN will not be in­volved in any way in the evac­u­a­tion of civil­ians from east Aleppo re­lated to this an­nounce­ment,” said David Swan­son, a spokesman for the UN hu­man­i­tar­ian of­fice. “Med­i­cal evac­u­a­tions can only take place if par­ties to the con­flict take all the nec­es­sary mea­sures to pro­vide an en­abling en­vi­ron­ment, which hasn’t hap­pened,” he told AFP. — AFP

ALEPPO: Syr­ian pro-gov­ern­ment stand over a body in the ‘1070’ apart­ment block area, south of AlHam­daniyah. — AFP

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