Clashes, artillery fire hit Aleppo after truce expires
HEAVY clashes erupted between regime and rebel forces in Syria’s divided city of Aleppo after a unilateral ceasefire announced by government ally Russia expired.
Moscow had extended the unilateral “humanitarian pause” into a third day until October 22, but announced no further renewal of the truce despite a UN request for longer to evacuate wounded civilians.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported fierce fighting in several areas along the front line dividing the city, with three people wounded by shelling of the rebel-held Salaheddin and Al-Mashhad districts.
The first air strikes since the end of the truce hit the opposition-controlled district of Sheikh Saeed where there was also heavy fighting, the monitor said.
Neither residents nor rebels of opposition-held districts heeded calls from Syria’s army and Moscow to leave during the ceasefire, after weeks of devastating bombardment and a three-month government siege.
The pause began on October 20, and came after Moscow announced a temporary halt to the Syrian army’s campaign to recapture the city.
The army opened eight corridors for evacuations, but just a handful of people crossed through a single passage, with the others remaining deserted.
Syria and Russian authorities have accused rebels in the east of preventing civilians from leaving and using them as “human shields”.
More than 2000 civilians have been wounded since the army launched its offensive to drive the rebels out of the eastern districts they have held since 2012. Nearly 500 people have been killed.
The United Nations had hoped to use the ceasefire to evacuate wounded people, and possibly deliver aid. But the UN said the requisite security guarantees had not been received.
“You have various parties to the conflict and those with influence and they all have to be on the same page on this and they are not,” said David Swanson, a spokesperson for the UN humanitarian office.
The UN had drawn up a four-day plan that was to start with two days of medical evacuations to west Aleppo, rebel-held Idlib province, and Turkey, and continue with more evacuations as well as aid deliveries.
No aid has entered Aleppo since July 7 and food rations will run out by the end of the month, UN chief Ban Ki-moon warned.
The UN had asked Moscow to consider extending the pause until this evening, but there was no word of any extension as the deadline passed.
Demonstrators hold placards during a protest outside Downing Street in central London on October 22, calling on the British government to take action to protect the children of the Syrian city of Aleppo.