aleppo airstrike, syria.jpg

Russia, a major ally of the Syrian government, said Thursday it was ready to conduct a 48-hour ceasefire next week to allow much-needed humanitarian aid into the divided city of Aleppo.

The measure will be considered a "pilot project" to determine the feasibility of future ceasefires in the area, Russian General Igor Konashenkov said.

Russia's military is ready to provide protection to United Nations convoys entering the war-torn northern city, Konashenkov told the Interfax news agency.

The Russian gesture came shortly after the UN envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, adjourned a humanitarian task force meeting after just eight minutes, citing continued violence and a lack of progress on bringing aid into desperate parts of the war-ravaged country.

Russia has been carrying out an air campaign in Syria in support of President Bashar al-Assad since September 2015.

De Mistura welcomed Russia's statement, noting that the UN humanitarian team was set to mobilize. He said the UN's plan was to begin deliveries as soon as possible.

"The United Nations count on the Russian Federation to deliver their part regarding, in particular, the adherence of the Syrian armed forces to the pause, once it comes into effect," de Mistura's office said.

Fighting in Aleppo has intensified in recent weeks.

The UN humanitarian task force was set up in February to help coordinate aid deliveries to Syria where the warring parties have set up sieges and blocked supplies from reaching hard-hit areas.

Not a single aid convoy has reached besieged areas in Syria in over a month, de Mistura said.

In Washington, US State Department spokesman John Kirby stressed that discussions need to move beyond temporary ceasefires to a lasting humanitarian solution.

In Brussels, the European Union called for an "immediate halt" to fighting in Aleppo to allow medical evacuations, aid deliveries and essential infrastructure repairs.

Al-Assad's forces have been battling opposition rebels in south and south-western Aleppo for the last few weeks. 

Aleppo, Syria's pre-war commercial hub, has been divided between Assad's forces in the west and rebels to the east since fighting erupted in mid-2012 for control of the city.

Last month, government forces captured the last remaining rebel supply route into the east, raising fears that some 250,000 to 300,000 civilians there would come under siege.

Earlier this month, rebel forces cut off the main government supply line to the west, prompting UN children's agency UNICEF to warn that about 2 million people on both sides of the city had no access to drinking water.

In recent weeks, Syria has seen multi-front fighting in different areas.

In an escalation of the country's five-year conflict, activists said that Syrian government warplanes bombed Kurdish positions for the first time Thursday in al-Hassakeh province in north-eastern Syria. The airstrikes come amid clashes that started this week between a US-backed Kurdish group and a militia loyal to al-Assad.

The government airstrikes targeted Kurdish forces in north-western and eastern parts of provincial capital al-Hassakeh, a monitoring group reported.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 25 civilians were killed and injured, including 10 children, amid an exodus to safer areas.

A Kurdish official said the regime's artillery shelling and air bombing were in response to Kurds' territorial breakthroughs against the Islamic State extremist militia in Syria.

"We will not stay silent over these bestial, flagrant attacks on our people," spokesman for the powerful Kurdish People's Protection Units (PYG), Redur Xelil, said in a Facebook statement.

The PYG and the Kurdish-led Democratic Force of Syria, both backed by the United States, have been instrumental against Islamic State fighters.

Most of al-Hassakeh is dominated by Kurdish forces affiliated with the People's Protection Units, which receives the backing of US airstrikes in its war against Islamic State forces.

The Kurds, who were up to 10 per cent of Syria's pre-war population of 22.4 million, live mainly in the north-east, as well as in small areas along the Turkish border.

Under al-Assad's Baath Party, the Kurds complained that they were denied many rights and that their culture was suppressed.

The Kurds have taken advantage of the 2011 uprising against al-Assad to further their push for autonomy.

Latest news

SpaceX plans to fly two passengers around moon, NASA involved

SpaceX is planning to fly two private citizens around the moon next year, the first manned trip to the Earth's only natural satellite in more than four decades, the private company said Monday.

Key congressman has 'no evidence' of Trump contacts with Russia

The chairman of the US House of Representatives' Intelligence Committee said he is not aware of any evidence of improper contacts between Russian officials and Donald Trump's presidential campaign.

Gambia's new President Barrow fires army chief

Gambia's new President Adama Barrow has sacked army chief Ousman Badjie, replacing him with a presidential military aide.

Star investor Buffett takes a bigger bite of Apple, doubling shares

Stock market guru Warren Buffett on Monday revealed that his investment firm Berkshire Hathaway doubled its share of iPhone producer Apple stocks last month.

Minister: Erdogan not welcome in Austria for referendum campaign

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan should not come to Austria to campaign to Turkish citizens living there ahead of a constitutional reform referendum in his country, Austrian Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz said Monday.

Migrant group: Britain hits 'new low' by deporting grandmother

Britain has hit a "new low" by deporting a grandmother from north-eastern England to Singapore, a migrants' rights group said on Monday.

Turkish judge remands German reporter in custody

A Turkish judge remanded German-Turkish journalist Deniz Yucel in custody Monday, according to newspaper Die Welt, sparking strong condemnation from the German government and rights organizations.

1.4 million people without water after deadly floods in Chile

More than 1.4 million people were without drinking water in the Chilean capital of Santiago on Monday following catastrophic flooding that left at least three people dead.

Serbia PM says no snap parliamentary election

Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic said on Monday that an early parliamentary election would not be held simultaneously with a presidential vote, although the state leadership had announced such a possibility.  

Trump touts 'security budget' with 10-per-cent defence spending hike

US President Donald Trump says he will present a "public security and national security budget" that hikes military spending by 54 billion dollars or about 10 per cent.

National Front founder Jean-Marie Le Pen fined for Roma comments

The founder of France's far-right National Front, Jean-Marie Le Pen, had a 5,000-euro (5,300-dollar) fine for inciting racial hatred and discrimination confirmed on appeal on Monday.

Croatia-Montenegro relations example for region, says minister

After meeting Croatian Ambassador Veselko Grubisic in Podgorica on Monday, Montenegrin Defence Minister Predrag Boskovic said that relations between Croatia and Montenegro were very good and could serve as an example to other countries in the region.

Over 31,000 South Sudanese flee fighting and hunger to Sudan

Fleeing escalating fighting and famine in South Sudan, over 31,000 people have arrived in neighbouring Sudan so far this year, the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) said Monday.

SDP urges gov't to pull statement making radical turn in human rights

The opposition Social Democratic Party (SDP) on Monday called on the government to take a position on the Croatian foreign policy's turn in human rights, which it said was initiated by Foreign Minister Davor Ivo Stier, and to withdraw a Foreign Ministry statement on that sent to Brussels.

Police says photoshopped photo of Milanka Opacic motivated by hate

An investigation has proved that a photograph showing Parliament Deputy Speaker Milanka Opacic wearing a shirt with four Cyrillic letters "S" (standing for "only unity saves the Serb", a popular motto and slogan in Serbia and among Serb nationalists) is a photomontage and the police suspect that publishing and distributing the said photo has been motivated by hate and intolerance.

Finance Ministry says didn't analyse HEP's readiness for IPO

The Ministry of Finance on Monday announced that it had not analysed the justification or the readiness of power provider Hrvatska Elektroprivreda (HEP) for an initial public offering with regard to a possible acquisition of Hungarian energy company MOL's stake in Croatia's INA.

Berlin confirms murder of German hostage in the Philippines

Berlin confirmed on Monday the murder of a German hostage by the militant Islamist group Abu Sayyaf in the southern Philippines with Chancellor Angela Merkel condemning the killing as "barbaric" and "abominable".

Syrian refugees arrive in Italy with help from Christian groups

A group of 50 Syrian refugees, more than half of them children, landed in Italy early Monday, entering the country on humanitarian visas obtained with the help of a lay Catholic NGO, Protestant organizations and the Italian government.