Artillery fire resumes in Aleppo as truce expires

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ALEPPO: Heavy clashes erupted between regime and rebel forces in Aleppo after a “humanitarian” ceasefire announced by government ally Russia expired before the UN could evacuate wounded civilians from rebel-held areas.

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Moscow had extended the unilateral “humanitarian pause” into a third day but announced no further renewal, as fierce fighting broke in several areas along the front line dividing the city, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported.

Three people were wounded by shelling of the rebel-held Salaheddin and Al-Mashhad districts, they said, adding that the first air strikes since the end of the truce hit the opposition-controlled district of Sheikh Saeed where there was also heavy fighting.

An AFP correspondent in rebel-held eastern districts also reported sounds of fighting and artillery fire.

Neither residents nor rebels of opposition-held districts heeded calls from Syria’s army and Moscow to leave during the ceasefire.

The pause began on Thursday, and came after Moscow announced a temporary halt to the Syrian army’s campaign to recapture the divided city. The army had opened eight corridors for evacuations, but only a handful of people crossed through a single passage.

“Members of popular civil committees from regime districts entered the eastern neighborhoods to try to evacuate the injured but failed,” Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman said earlier Saturday.

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 Thursday.

The UN had asked Moscow to consider extending the pause until Monday evening.

A senior Russian military official, Sergei Rudskoi, accused the rebels of using the ceasefire in their interests. “We are seeing them massing around Aleppo and preparing for another breakthrough into the city’s western neighborhoods.”

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said in an interview set to air Saturday that the intervention was meant to “liberate” Syria and keep Assad in power.

“Either Assad is in Damascus, or Al-Nusra is,” he said, referring to former Al-Qaeda affiliate the Fateh al-Sham Front. “There is no third option here.”

The Observatory said earlier both rebels and regime forces appeared to be reinforcing their positions.

“The regime and the rebels are both bolstering their forces, which raises fears of a massive military operation if the ceasefire fails,” Abdel Rahman said.

Elsewhere in Aleppo province, Turkish forces and allied Syrian rebels were shelling the Kurdish-Arab Syrian Democratic Forces coalition in several villages.

Turkey considers the Kurdish militia that leads the SDF to be a “terrorist” organization, and began an operation in Syria in August targeting both it and the Islamic State group.

On Friday, a UN human rights council resolution called for “a comprehensive, independent special inquiry into the events in Aleppo”.

It also demanded that warring parties provide unrestricted humanitarian access to desperate civilians and “end immediately all bombardments and military flights over Aleppo city”.

AFP

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