Aleppo evacuation routes deserted as ‘ceasefire’ ends

Russian-declared pause in fighting ends as humanitarian corridors out of besieged east Aleppo remain empty.

Aleppo smoke rebel fighters motorcycles
Rebel rocket fire lightly wounded two Russian servicemen monitoring the 'humanitarian pause' [Reuters]

Opposition fighters fired rockets at an evacuation route in Syria’s Aleppo on Friday and there was no sign of civilians or rebels leaving besieged neighbourhoods as a Russian-declared unilateral ceasefire came to end.

Syrian state media and Russia’s defence ministry said rebels fired rockets at one of the eight passages open for civilians and rebels.

“[People in eastern Aleppo] are bracing themselves for a new phase of Russian air strikes,” said Al Jazeera’s Mohammed Adow, reporting from Gaziantep along the Turkey-Syria border. “They’ve always known that the [Russian declared] humanitarian pause was temporary and that the air strikes would begin again, especially after the launch of the rebel offensive on the government-held western Aleppo.” 

Halfway through Friday’s 10-hour ceasefire, AFP correspondents in Aleppo said no one had used any of the passages Moscow said were open. 

Syria’s war: Russia tells rebels to withdraw from Aleppo

Damascus ally Russia said the 10-hour “humanitarian pause” was an attempt to “prevent senseless casualties”.

But a similar, three-day pause last month ended with only a handful of people leaving besieged eastern areas.

Once Syria’s economic powerhouse, Aleppo has been devastated by fighting since the rebels seized the east of the city in 2012, turning its historic heart into a battlefield.

The army cut the last supply route into rebel-held territory in July, leaving more than 250,000 civilians still living there without access to basic goods.

The rebels launched a bid to break the siege last week, which they stepped up on Thursday before the ceasefire began.

“The rebels have made some forays into the government-held parts of Aleppo … they have taken some key neighbourhoods, and they are fighting on several fronts … They see this as the only way to break the siege, which has lasted for months,” said Adow.

After several hours of quiet overnight, locals in both east and west Aleppo on Friday reported fighting and Syrian air strikes on the city’s western outskirts.

Russian soldiers wounded

Rebel rocket fire on Friday hit the Castello road, which leads north out of opposition-controlled territory in Aleppo’s east, state media and the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) said.

The rockets lightly wounded two Russian servicemen who were monitoring the ceasefire, according to the Russian defence ministry.

Syrian state media said the fire also wounded a Syrian reporter.

The attack forced Moscow to temporarily cut a live video feed of the area, which had shown barrels painted with the Syrian flag next to a large photograph of President Bashar al-Assad propped up by sandbags.

READ MORE: Rebels reject Russian demand to leave Syria’s Aleppo

Civilians in east Aleppo, who have faced weeks of devastating bombardment by the government and Russia, have expressed scepticism about safe passage offers.

The rebels dismissed Friday’s ceasefire as a ploy by Moscow to deflect international criticism of the high civilian death toll from its bombing campaign.

“This announcement is worthless … We don’t trust the Russians or any of their cheap initiatives,” Yasser al-Youssef, a politburo member of the Nureddin al-Zinki rebel brigade in Aleppo, told AFP news agency.

But rebels have also come under criticism for their shelling of western government-held districts.

Syria Series – Coming Soon

Rocket fire on regime-controlled neighbourhoods killed at least 12 people on Thursday, state media said.

The latest deaths brought to nearly 70 the number of civilians killed in government-held areas during the offensive, according to SOHR.

It added rebels had captured the Dahiyet al-Assad neighbourhood and the village of Minyan west of Aleppo.

No aid since July

The United Nations said it would not attempt any medical evacuations from rebel-held sectors during Friday’s ceasefire.

UN agencies tried but failed to organise evacuation convoys during last month’s pause.

“The UN will not be involved in any way in the evacuation of civilians from east Aleppo related to this announcement,” said David Swanson, a spokesman for the UN humanitarian office.

“Medical evacuations can only take place if parties to the conflict take all the necessary measures to provide an enabling environment, which hasn’t happened,” he told AFP.

READ MORE: Battle for Aleppo – Russia offers humanitarian pause

“We remain very, very concerned about the humanitarian situation in east Aleppo. There have been no humanitarian supplies reaching the east of the city since early July.”

Rights group Amnesty International also criticised the limited ceasefire, saying it was “no substitute for unfettered and impartial humanitarian access and ensuring protection of civilians”.

Hundreds of civilians have been killed in the city’s rebel-held sector since the Syrian army and its allies launched an offensive to recapture it in September.

The death toll has drawn international condemnation of both Damascus and Moscow. The US and the EU have said Russian actions may amount to “war crimes“.

Syria war: Rebel fighters advance in western Aleppo

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies


Aleppo, once Syria’s largest city, is an important battleground in the war with at least 250,000 besieged in the east.

Published On 24 Jan 2017
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