Respite in Aleppo as halt to airstrikes holds, activists say

The Syrian regime and its Russian allies on Wednesday suspended airstrikes on rebel areas in the divided city of Aleppo for the second successive day, ahead of a humanitarian pause announced by Moscow for later this week, activists said.

"It is quiet so far. There are no air raids, but shelling by regime forces," Ibrahim al-Hajj, a volunteer with the rescue team White Helmets, told dpa from rebel-held eastern Aleppo.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a monitoring group, confirmed that there have been no airstrikes on opposition-controlled areas in Aleppo since Tuesday.

Russian Defence Minister Sergey Shoigu said on Tuesday that the cessation of airstrikes on Aleppo was necessary to allow his country to carry out am eight-hour "humanitarian pause," planned for Thursday, and clear the way for evacuating civilians and rebels from opposition districts through special corridors.

Rebel fighters inside eastern Aleppo have vowed not to leave the area. 

"This is not a truce. Eight hours to evacuate Aleppo is a request for surrender. This is totally rejected," Zakaria Malhafji, a spokesman for the rebel group Fistaqim, said.

"We will not leave the city. We want a total truce and the entry of aid," he told dpa via WhatsApp.

Aleppo has been the target of an intense campaign by the forces of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and Russia since a US-Russian brokered ceasefire in the country fell apart on September 19.

Al-Assad said that protecting civilians in Aleppo necessitates getting rid of the "terrorists," Syria's state news agency SANA reported on Wednesday.

Activists inside eastern Aleppo said that the regime planes had dropped leaflets calling on fighters to leave "because they have no other choice."

Some 250,000 to 300,000 civilians are thought to be trapped in eastern Aleppo, which suffers from dwindling food supplies and extremely limited medical care.

Hospitals have repeatedly been hit in airstrikes in recent weeks.

At least 457 civilians have been killed in eastern Aleppo in the regime-Russian offensive in the past month, the observatory reported.  

Russia blamed Belgium, which is part of a US-led coalition, of unleashing airstrikes on regime areas in the northern countryside of Aleppo.

"If no direct condemnation of strikes by the coalition, by the Belgian Air Force follows, we will have no option left other than regard everything that is happening now as an attempt to preserve bandit groups in Syrian territory," Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said, according to Russian ITAR-TASS news agency.

Observatory head, Rami Abdel-Rahman, said that the bombardment took place as US-backed Kurdish fighters were battling the Islamic State extremist militia in northern Syria. He did not report casualties.

Last update: Wed, 19/10/2016 - 15:28

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