Syria: Russia declares 8-hour ceasefire to “empty Aleppo”

Syria: Russia declares 8-hour ceasefire to "empty Aleppo

Russian and Assad regime’s forces will pause attacks on Aleppo for eight hours on Thursday to allow civilians and rebels to leave the city, the Russian Defence Ministry said on Monday.

Assad regime, backed by Russia, said on September 22 it was starting a new wide offensive to recapture the rebel-held parts of Aleppo after a week-long ceasefire was declared officially over on 19 September.

Since 19 September, more than 800 civilians were killed and more than 2000 injured in rebel-held areas of Aleppo province, including the besieged eastern part of the city, Civil defense workers said.

But Moscow ruled out a lasting ceasefire, a step that Western governments have been demanding, saying that would only give Islamist rebels in the city an opportunity to regroup.

Speaking at a briefing in Moscow, Lieutenant-General Sergei Rudskoy, a senior Defence Ministry official, said rebels in parts of Aleppo were killing civilians while Western governments turned a blind eye.

“Given the situation, a unilateral ceasefire makes no sense, since Jabhat al-Nusra and groups allied to it will once again be given a breather, will regroup and restore their military capability,” Rudskoy said, referring to a rebel group previously allied to al Qaeda.

He said Russia was working with other powers to achieve a peace deal for Aleppo, but that would take time, so in the meantime it had decided to initiate a humanitarian pause.

The pause is intended “first and foremost so that civilians can move freely, for the evacuation of the sick and wounded, and also for the removal of rebels,” he said.

“On Oct. 20 from 0800 (1 a.m. ET) until 1600, a humanitarian pause will be implemented in the area of Aleppo. For that period, Russia’s air force and Syrian government forces will halt air strikes and firing from other weapons,” he said.

But UN agencies say at least 12 hours will be needed for that to happen.

“Any lessening of the violence, lessening of the fighting, any pause that’s actually implemented, would be very much welcome,” U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric told reporters.

“We will use whatever pause we have to do whatever we can. Obviously there is a need for a longer pause in order to get (aid) trucks in,” he said.

New massacres in Aleppo

Russia’s declaration came on the same day that 14 members of the same family were killed by its air force, raising the total death toll to more than 47 in the last 24 hours.

Members of the Syrian Civil Defence, a search and rescue group also known as the White Helmets that operates in rebel-held areas across the country, identified the jets as Russian. The attack hit Aleppo’s al-Marjah area.

The White Helmets said they are searching for more than a dozen people trapped under the rubble.

“A new massacre happened this morning when Russian warplanes bombed the Marjeh neighborhood killing 14 people from the same family, most of them women and children,” Ibrahim Abu Leith, Aleppo-based spokesman for the White Helmets, said.

A list of those killed in the city, published by the Civil Defence, included several infants, among them two six-week-old babies and six other children aged eight or below.

Of the 47 civilians killed, the highest number of dead were in the Qaterji neighborhood, where Russian raids claimed 17 lives overnight, according to Rami Abdulrahman, the Syrian Observatory chief.

The Assad regime forces, backed by Russian air power, Iranian ground forces and Shi’ite militia fighters from Iran, Iraq, and Lebanon, has been tightening its grip on rebel-held districts of Aleppo this year, and this summer achieved a long-held goal of fully encircling the area.

Recovering full control of the rebels’ last significant urban area would be the most important victory of the war so far for Assad, strengthening his control over Syria’s most populous and strategically important regions.