A gesture to allow pulling out sick and wounded
MOSCOW: The Russian and Syrian air forces have stopped bombing Aleppo as of 0700 GMT on Tuesday, Russia’s defence minister said, in a move he said was meant to pave the way for an eight-hour truce on October 20.
“Strikes in the Aleppo region by the Russian and Syrian air forces are stopping today starting at 10:00 am (local time),” Sergei Shoigu said in a televised briefing.
“The early cessation of air strikes is necessary to introduce a ‘humanitarian pause’ on October 20. This guarantees the security of civilians’ exit through six corridors and prepares the evacuation of the sick and injured from eastern Aleppo.”
Russia’s defense ministry said Monday that its forces and the Syrian regime would halt fire in Aleppo on Thursday for eight hours amid mounting criticism of the Moscow-backed assault against Syria’s second city.
Shoigu on Tuesday called on countries that “have influence on armed groups in eastern Aleppo” to convince group leaders to cease hostilities and leave the city.
Shoigu said the initiative could “contribute to the success” of international military talks in Geneva on Wednesday on efforts to distance Syrian opposition fighters from jihadist group Fateh al-Sham Front, which changed its name from Al-Nusra Front after renouncing its ties to Al-Qaeda.
Announcing the ceasefire, senior Russian military officer Sergei Rudskoi said: “We have taken a decision not to waste time and to introduce ‘humanitarian pauses’, mainly for the free passage of civilians, evacuation of the sick and wounded and withdrawal of fighters.”
“During this period the Russian air force and Syrian government troops will halt air strikes and firing from any other types of weapons.”
The announcements came as EU foreign ministers condemned the ferocious air war waged on Aleppo over the past three weeks.
“Since the beginning of the offensive by the regime and its allies, notably Russia, the intensity and scale of the aerial bombardment of eastern Aleppo is clearly disproportionate,” a statement said.
“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,” they added.
The EU ministers said they would press ahead with extending sanctions against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime, but stopped short of threatening measures against Russia.
EU foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini called Moscow’s announcement “positive” but said the truce was not long enough to allow humanitarian aid to reach the besieged city.
“It can be a start… for sure it is a positive step,” she told reporters at the close of the ministerial meeting in Luxembourg.
“The latest assessment from the aid agencies is that 12 hours is needed, so work is needed to find common ground,” she added.
However, the EU and United Nations welcomed the announcement, but said the promised pause in fighting needed to be longer to allow the delivery of humanitarian aid.
Meanwhile, Russia’s ambassador to the UN, Vitaly Churkin, announced that Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey had agreed to participate in talks with the US and Russia to try to separate moderate and extremist opposition in Aleppo and boost hopes of prolonging the truce.
UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric also welcomed the truce announcement but stressed the “need for a longer pause in order to get the aid in.”