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Sat Oct 22 21:43:54 SAST 2016

Russia halts bombing to let aid into Aleppo

AFP, Reuters | 19 October, 2016 07:51

Relief and a hint of scepticism greeted the decision by Russia and Syria to suspend the bombing of Aleppo yesterday.

Moscow announced that a brief truce for humanitarian reasons showed the Kremlin's "goodwill", but Western governments suggested it might rather be trying to dissipate mounting criticism for backing a brutal regime.

Russia has called an eight-hour "humanitarian pause" in the battered city for tomorrow, a move welcomed by the UN and European Union which said it needed to be longer to allow the delivery of aid.

The UN said it was waiting for safety assurances from all sides before going in with aid.

"We remain, of course, pleased if there is a reduction in fighting ... because it will protect civilians," UN spokesman Jens Laerke said.

But he stressed that "when the weapons fall silent, we need all weapons to fall silent", before "critical humanitarian assistance can be provided to the area and the sick and wounded can be evacuated.

"We need to have assurances from all parties to the conflict. Not just a unilateral announcement that this will happen," he said.

Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu said a halt to air strikes was "necessary" for the truce.

"This guarantees the security of civilians' exit through six corridors and prepares the evacuation of the sick and injured from eastern Aleppo," he said, adding that it would also guarantee safe passage for armed rebels.

But rebel groups rejected any withdrawal from Aleppo.

"The factions completely reject any exit - this is surrender," said Zakaria Malahifji, political officer of the Aleppo-based Fastaqim group.


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