BEIRUT: A Russia-declared unilateral ceasefire is to take hold in Syria’s Aleppo Friday even as rebels stepped up a week-old assault to break a government siege of the city’s eastern districts.
The 10-hour “humanitarian pause” was announced on Wednesday, and it was to start at 0700 GMT (3:00 pm in the Philippines) on Friday.
The pause is the second declared by Moscow in less than a month after a three-day ceasefire in late October failed to encourage civilians and rebels to leave rebel-held east Aleppo.
The October 20 pause followed a month-long Russia-backed army offensive to recapture the whole city that killed hundreds of civilians and hit health facilities, sparking international condemnation.
The chief of Russia’s General Staff Valery Gerasimov said Friday’s pause was meant to “prevent senseless casualties” by allowing civilians and combatants out of east Aleppo.
The United Nations has, however, warned that “humanitarian operations cannot be contingent on political or military initiatives”.
Only a handful of people left east Aleppo during the October ceasefire, with Russia accusing rebels of preventing people from leaving and a UN plan to evacuate wounded people shelved over security concerns.
Rebels have been battling for nearly a week in a desperate bid to break the three-month siege but have so far been unable to push through government lines in western Aleppo.
The opposition forces on Thursday announced a new phase in their assault on government forces in the city’s western outskirts.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based monitor, said the “most intense fighting” was on the edges of the Halab al-Jadida neighbourhood.
State media said at least 12 people were killed in rebel rocket and gunfire on Aleppo’s western neighborhoods.