Russia and Syria halt Aleppo airstrikes in ‘humanitarian pause’

Vladimir Putins spokesman said it was a goodwill gesture. Picture: AFP/Getty Images
Vladimir Putins spokesman said it was a goodwill gesture. Picture: AFP/Getty Images
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Russian and Syrian warplanes halted their airstrikes on Syria’s besieged city of Aleppo yesterday in preparation for a temporary pause in the military push that Moscow has announced for later in the week, the Russian defence minister said.

Both Russian and Syrian air raids were suspended at 10am yesterday, defence minister Sergei Shoigu said. He described the suspension as a precursor for the opening of humanitarian corridors.

The Russian military is offering yet another chance, and we hope our partners will allow us to take advantage

Dmitry Peskov

On Monday, Moscow announced a “humanitarian pause” between 8am and 4pm tomorrow to allow civilians and militants safe passage out of the city. Russian and Syrian militaries will halt any offensive actions. Syrian rebels, including al-Qaida militants, as well as the wounded and the sick will be allowed to leave to the neighbouring rebel-held province of Idlib.

Russian president Vladimir Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said the halt in the airstrikes was a goodwill gesture to pave the way for Thursday’s pause.

He said: “The Russian military is offering yet another chance, and we hope that our partners will allow us all to take advantage of that.”

The United Nations said Russia has communicated plans for two eight-hour ceasefires in rebel-held parts of Aleppo over “consecutive days” this week.

Spokesman Jens Laerke, of UN humanitarian co-ordinator OCHA, said in Geneva the agency needs assurances from all sides that fighting will stop before it can provide humanitarian assistance to the city.

Mr Laerke said the UN was not told in advance of the Russian announcement.

In Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel said sanctions against Russia over its actions in Syria should remain an option.

Mrs Merkel said she and French president François Hollande will discuss Syria with Mr Putin on the sidelines of a planned meeting on Ukraine in Berlin today, but cautioned against expecting “miracles.”

Both European leaders have been sharply critical of Russia’s support for the forces of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad.

Aleppo, Syria’s largest city and once its commercial hub, has been subjected to the most intense aerial bombardment since the start of the country’s conflict in 2011.

In recent months, the Syrian army has pressed its ­offensive into the rebel-held eastern part of the city. Air raids have so far killed hundreds of people and caused international outrage.

A Russia-US-brokered cease-fire last month collapsed as the Syrian army launched an offensive on eastern Aleppo under the cover of Russian warplanes.

Mohammed Abu Rajab, an Aleppo resident, said ­airstrikes on the eastern neighbourhoods stopped ­early ­yesterday, just after the city had been subjected to another intense round of air raids.

“There were airstrikes throughout the night,” Mr Abu Rajab, who works at a local hospital, said.

But as the airstrikes stopped on the city, they continued as usual against nearby rebel-held villages, including Anadan and Daret Azzeh. Syrian activists had no immediate word on casualties.

US State Department spokesman Mark Toner, speaking in Washington on Monday, said the Russian-Syrian pause planned on Thursday was “a bit too little, too late.”

Mr Peskov would not say whether the air strikes would resume after the pause.