Moscow yesterday announced that the Russian and Syrian air forces have stopped bombing the Syrian city of Aleppo ahead of a brief truce, a move the Kremlin said showed “goodwill” as it faces mounting criticism for backing a brutal offensive.
Russia on Monday said there would be an eight-hour “humanitarian pause” in the battered city tomorrow, a move welcomed by the UN and the EU, which nevertheless said the ceasefire needed to be longer to allow the delivery of aid.
The UN yesterday said it was waiting for safety assurances from all sides before going in with “critical humanitarian assistance” for Aleppo’s desperate population.
The West has voiced increasing alarm over the situation in Aleppo, saying the ferocious Russian-backed onslaught on the rebel-held east could amount to a war crime.
“Strikes in the Aleppo region by the Russian and Syrian air forces are stopping today starting at 10am,” Russian Minister of Defense Sergei Shoigu said in a televised briefing, adding that the measure was “necessary” to pave the way for the truce.
“This guarantees the security of civilians’ exit through six corridors and prepares the evacuation of the sick and injured from eastern Aleppo,” he said, adding that it would also guarantee safe passage for armed rebels to leave eastern Aleppo.
Russian Presidential Press Secretary Dmitry Peskov hailed the move as a “manifestation of goodwill” and denied it was meant to assuage Western critics who have accused Moscow of perpetrating potential war crimes in Syria’s second city.
“This is an obvious continuation of Russian efforts. On the one hand, to fight terrorists in Syria, and on the other, to unblock the situation in Aleppo,” Peskov told reporters. “It is exclusively a manifestation of goodwill by the Russian military.”
Raids in eastern neighborhoods of Aleppo have stopped since the Russian announcement, but airstrikes are still being conducted in the broader Aleppo region, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said yesterday.
More than 250,000 people are under siege by government forces in the city that was once Syria’s thriving commercial hub.
Yesterday’s halt in bombing came just hours after Russian warplanes pounded Aleppo’s rebel-held districts, killing a couple and their three children, the observatory said.
On Monday, dozens of civilians, including 12 members of the same family, were killed in strikes against Aleppo, the monitor said.
The brutal government offensive against eastern Aleppo — which has destroyed hospitals and other civilian infrastructure — has plunged Syria into some of the worst violence since the conflict erupted in March 2011.
The EU on Monday said that Russian and Syrian airstrikes could amount to war crimes.
“The deliberate targeting of hospitals, medical personnel, schools and essential infrastructure, as well as the use of barrel bombs, cluster bombs and chemical weapons, constitute a catastrophic escalation of the conflict ... and may amount to war crimes,” EU foreign ministers meeting in Luxembourg said.
They also warned that the 28-nation bloc could impose additional sanctions against Damascus, but decided against targeting Russia, despite US and British calls to punish Moscow as well.
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