Truce extended in Aleppo but UN delays evacuations

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ALEPPO, Syria: Security concerns forced the United Nations to delay planned evacuations from Syria’s Aleppo, it said, as Russia extended a truce that was largely holding into a third day on Saturday.

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Moscow said it was extending the unilateral “humanitarian pause” in the Syrian government’s Russian-backed assault on opposition-held east Aleppo until 4:00 p.m. (Manila time).

But there was no sign that civilians or rebels were heeding calls to leave, with Damascus and Moscow accusing opposition fighters of preventing evacuations.

In Geneva, the UN rights council called for a special investigation into the violence in Aleppo in a resolution fiercely critical of Syria’s government.

East Aleppo, which the rebels captured in 2012, has been under siege by the army since mid-July and has faced devastating bombardment by the government and its ally Russia since the September 22 launch of an offensive to retake the whole city.

Nearly 500 people have been killed, more than a quarter of them children, since the assault began. More than 2,000 civilians have been wounded.

The scale of the casualties has prompted outrage in the West, with Washington saying the bombardment amounted to a possible war crime.

Russia announced a halt to its air strikes from Tuesday and the unilateral ceasefire from Thursday.

The Syrian army says it has opened eight corridors across the front line for the more than 250,000 civilians in rebel-held areas to leave, but so far almost none have taken up the offer.

“There has been no movement in the corridors in the eastern district. For the moment, we haven’t seen any movement of residents or fighters,” said Rami Abdel Rahman, head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group.

‘Threats preventing evacuations’
Syrian state media accused rebels of preventing people from leaving the city’s opposition-held sector.

And Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said fighters were using “threats, blackmail and brute force” to prevent civilians and rebels evacuating.

The United Nations had hoped to use the truce to evacuate injured people from Aleppo, and possibly deliver aid.

But on Friday afternoon, a spokesman said the operation had been delayed because of security concerns.

“Medical evacuations of sick and injured could unfortunately not begin this morning as planned because the necessary conditions were not in place,” said Jens Laerke of the United Nations humanitarian office OCHA.

David Swanson, an OCHA spokesman in Turkey’s Gaziantep, said a four-day plan had been drawn up to begin with two days of evacuations to west Aleppo, rebel-held Idlib or Turkey.

If successful, the plan would then see aid delivered for another two days alongside continuing evacuations.

No aid has entered Aleppo since July 7 and food rations will run out by the end of October, UN chief Ban Ki-moon warned on Thursday.

The Syrian opposition National Coalition and rebel Free Syrian Army criticised UN policy in a statement, saying it “plays into the Assad regime’s plans to empty Aleppo.”

It accused the world body of becoming a “tool in the hands of Russia.”

AFP

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