Russia has said it would support a 48-hour ceasefire in Syria’s Aleppo, a move the United Nations envoy said would allow aid to reach besieged areas soon, as long as all sides respected the truce.
As viral images of a dazed child pulled from rubble in the heavily bombarded rebel-held east of the city captured the plight of its civilians and drew the attention of the world, Moscow said it was ready to start the first “humanitarian pause” next week.
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Western diplomats gave a cautious welcome to the announcement, but stressed that the UN must be in charge of a sustained aid operation.
UN envoy Staffan de Mistura has long called for a 48-hour halt in fighting each week to allow aid delivery and medical evacuations from both rebel-held eastern and government-controlled western Aleppo.
“The Russian defence ministry has laid out several conditions for a weekly 48-hour pause in fighting,” said Al Jazeera’s Reza Sayah, reporting from the Gaziantep on the Turkish-Syrian border.
“It says it’s willing to support the plan as a ‘pilot programme’ for the city of Aleppo only. That suggests Russia is not ready to back an indefinite weekly pause in violence. It also suggests there’s plenty for all sides to negotiate before the plan goes into effect.”
De Mistura welcomed the Russian defence ministry announcement and said a UN humanitarian team was “now set to mobilise itself to respond to this challenge”.
“Our plan is to collectively work out the operational details, and be ready for delivery as soon as possible,” de Mistura’s office said in a statement.
Moscow must ensure the Syrian army, its ally, adheres to the pause, while the United States and regional powers must make sure opposition fighters are on board, he said.
Aleppo, Syria’s most populous prewar city and once its commercial hub, has become the focus of fighting in the five-year-old war.
Some two million people on both sides of the divided city have been without running water for nearly two weeks after infrastructure was damaged by bombing earlier this month.
Escalating violence in and around the city, where Russia and Iran are supporting bombing campaigns against the rebels, some of whom are backed by Arab and Western powers, caused the breakdown of peace talk in Geneva overseen by de Mistura.
Residents in the rebel-controlled half of the city celebrated earlier this month when rebels broke a month-long government siege that had led to drastic price increases and shortages of food and fuel, trapping some 300,000 people inside the city’s battered eastern neighborhoods.
The situation on the ground, though, has not immediately improved, residents told Al Jazeera.
Sustained fighting in the area, as the government attempts to retake lost ground, has meant that no significant amount of aid has been able to reach the area, according to locals and aid workers.
The Syrian opposition has said it wants to see a credible pause in the bloodshed and improved aid access before talks can resume.
“Trucks with food, water and medicine are ready to move immediately and ambulances to evacuate urgent medical cases are on standby,” said Jens Laerke, spokesman for the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.