Rus­sia, Syria plan brief respite for be­sieged city

Baltimore Sun - - NATION & WORLD - By Bassem Mroue

BEIRUT — Rus­sian and Syr­ian forces will halt hos­til­i­ties for eight hours in the east­ern districts of Aleppo, Rus­sia’s mil­i­tary an­nounced on Mon­day, a day on which op­po­si­tion ac­tivists said their airstrikes 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 Thurs­day 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 neigh­bor­ing rebel- held prov­ince of Idlib.

United Na­tions hu­man­i­tar­ian of­fi­cials have pleaded with com­bat­ants to ob­serve weekly 48-hour cease-fires to al­low food and medicine into the city’s be­sieged east­ern districts, but Rus­sian and Syr­ian forces have only es­ca­lated their aerial and ground as­sault on the re­bel­held ar­eas in re­cent weeks.

But Rus­sian and Syr­ian lead­ers are now cap­i­tal­iz­ing on a pro­posal made by the U.N. en­voy ear­lier this month to al­low al-Qaidalinked 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 U.N. Se­cu­rity Coun­cil res­o­lu­tion man­dat­ing an im­me­di­ate cease-fire.

Mon­day’s an­nounce­ment did not in­clude any prom­ises of an ex­tended cease-fire or lo­cal ad­min­is­tra­tion. It fol­lowed a bloody day of airstrikes on re­bel­held districts in and around Aleppo.

At least 23 peo­ple were killed in an airstrike that also wounded dozens in the vil­lage of Owei­jel, just west of Aleppo, ac­cord­ing to the Civil de­fense vol­un­teers search for vic­tims trapped in the rub­ble of a bombed build­ing in Aleppo, Syria, on Mon­day. Dozens of civil­ians were killed in airstrikes by Rus­sia and Syria. Bri­tain-based Syr­ian Ob­ser­va­tory f or 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.

More than a dozen peo­ple were also killed in the Mar­jeh neigh­bor­hood in east­ern Aleppo.

Mon­day’s airstrikes co­in­cided with the launch in neigh­bor­ing Iraq of a ma­jor op­er­a­tion by Iraqi and Kur­dish forces, backed by the U.S.-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.

Also Mon­day, Syr­ian state me­dia claimed 49 rebels were killed and wounded in fight­ing on the south­ern edges of Aleppo.

In Idlib prov­ince, a mis­sile fired by a U.S.-led coali­tion drone struck a car, killing all inside, ac­cord­ing to the Ob­ser­va­tory and a ji­hadi of­fi­cial. It was not im­me­di­ately clear who was in the ve­hi­cle, but such at­tacks have pre­vi­ously tar­geted of­fi­cials with al-Qaida’s af­fil­i­ate in Syria, known as Jab­hat Fatah al-Sham Front.

KARAM AL-MASRI/GETTY-AFP

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