Russia, Syria plan brief respite for besieged city
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.