Russia halts Aleppo strikes in 'goodwill gesture'
A member of the Syrian Civil Defence, known as the White Helmets, stands amid the rubble of a destroyed building during a rescue operation following reported air strikes in the rebel-held Qatarji neighbourhood of Aleppo, on October 17, 2016. Photograph: (AFP)
Moscow announced that Russian and Syrian air forces have stopped bombing Aleppo ahead of a brief truce, a move the Kremlin said showed "goodwill" as it faces mounting criticism for backing a brutal regime offensive.
It came yesterday after Russia said there would be an eight-hour "humanitarian pause" in the battered city on Thursday, a move welcomed by the United Nations and the European Union which nevertheless said the ceasefire needed to be longer to allow the delivery of aid.
The US State Department voiced scepticism regarding Moscow's latest initiative while welcoming a halt in the bombing.
French and Russian presidents Francois Hollande and Vladimir Putin and German Chancellor Angela Merkel will hold a "working meeting" on the Syrian crisis Wednesday in Berlin, the French leader's office said.
The meeting will be aimed at "giving the same message to Vladimir Putin on Syria: a durable ceasefire in Aleppo and humanitarian access so that the devastation of this city can end," an aide to Hollande said.
The West has expressed increasing alarm at the situation in Aleppo, saying the ferocious Russian-backed onslaught on the rebel-held east could amount to a war crime.
"Strikes in the Aleppo region by the Russian and Syrian air forces are stopping today from 10:00 am," Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu said in a televised briefing.
"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 rebels to leave the area.
The UN said it was waiting for safety assurances from all sides before going in with "critical humanitarian assistance" for Aleppo's desperate population.