ALEPPO: The United Nations hopes to carry out the first medical evacuations from Aleppo on Friday, if the “humanitarian pause” in the Syrian army’s Russian-backed assault on the city holds.
Despite a drop in violence after the truce took effect on Thursday there was little sign civilians were heeding calls to leave, and Russia accused rebels of preventing civilians from fleeing the east of the city.
Meanwhile NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg expressed concern that a Russian aircraft carrier battle group, on its way from the North Sea and currently off the coast of Britain, could join attacks on Aleppo.
British warships shadowed the Russian ships through the North Sea, the latest cat-and-mouse encounter in two years of Cold-War style tensions.
The unilateral ceasefire in Aleppo began at 8:00 am (0500 GMT) Thursday with the aim of allowing civilians and fighters to evacuate the city’s opposition-controlled east.
Shortly after the pause began, gunfire and artillery exchanges erupted around one crossing point, with state news agency SANA saying “terrorist groups” had targeted the area “in an attempt to hinder the humanitarian pause”.
But by afternoon, the clashes had subsided and the east was calm, though the streets were empty.
Around Aleppo on Thursday, Syrian soldiers were calling through loudspeakers for residents to “seize the chance” to evacuate.
The Russian defense ministry streamed live video from several of the exit corridors, showing waiting ambulances and buses along empty roads.
An AFP photographer in government-held west Aleppo said eight injured people had crossed via the Bustan al-Qasr crossing despite the fighting.
But AFP correspondents in the east visited four crossing points and saw no movement through them.
Yasser Youssef of the Nureddine al-Zinki rebel group said opposition fighters wanted “nothing to do” with the Russian initiative.
“Who are they to decide to displace the Syrian people who rebelled against the dictator Assad?” he asked.