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Russia calls eight-hour 'humanitarian pause' in Aleppo

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By Alasdair Sandford  with REUTERS, AFP
Russia calls eight-hour 'humanitarian pause' in Aleppo

Russia’s defence ministry says Russian and Syrian forces will pause their attacks on Aleppo for eight hours on Thursday to allow civilians and rebels to leave the city.

Both countries have been accused of atrocities.

Moscow has ruled out a lasting ceasefire as demanded by Western governments, saying that would only enable Islamist rebels a chance to regroup.

“On October 20 from 08.00 (05.00 GMT) until 16.00 (13.00 GMT) a humanitarian pause will be implemented in the area of Aleppo. During that period, Russia’s air force and Syrian government forces will halt air strikes and firing from other weapons,” announced the head of the General Staff’s Main Operations Command, Lieutenant-General Sergei Rudskoy in Moscow.

The temporary halt in bombing was “first and foremost so that civilians can move freely, for the evacuation of the sick and wounded, and also for the removal of rebels,” Rudskoy said, explaining that diplomatic efforts to obtain a withdrawal of the Nusra Front’s forces from the city would take time.

“Given the situation, a unilateral ceasefire makes no sense, since Jabhat al-Nusra and groups allied to it will once again be given a breakther, will regroup and restore their military capability,” he also said.

The US State Department has described the move as “too little, too late” to alleviate people’s suffering.

If the plan leads to an “eight-hour pause in the unremitting suffering of the people of Aleppo, that would be a good thing, but frankly it’s a bit too little, too late,” State Department spokesman Mark Toner told a daily briefing.

Earlier the EU’s foreign policy chief gave the Russian announcement a cautious welcome.

“It can be a start. There are discussions ongoing, if the eight hours are enough for the convoys to deliver the aid in east Aleppo or not,” Federica Mogherini told a news conference. She also called for an immediate ceasefire in rebel-held eastern Aleppo to avoid “further humanitarian catastrophe”.

However a spokesperson for the UN, while calling the move “positive”, said the pause would not be long enough to see aid delivered.

The US and some European countries have accused Russia and Syria of war crimes with their bombing of rebel-held areas. A whole family of 14 was reported killed on Monday.

On Sunday the US and the UK said they were considering imposing additional sanctions on the Syrian government and its supporters. US Secretary of State John Kerry said Moscow was pursuing a “Grozny strategy – to simply bomb indiscriminately and terrorise every human being”.

Moscow all but destroyed the capital of Russia’s Chechnya region during its war against Islamist separatists in 1999-2000.

Syria and Russia say they are only targeting militants in Aleppo and accuse the United States of breaking the ceasefire by bombing scores of Syrian troops fighting insurgents from the self-styled Islamic State group, over which the US has expressed regret.

Russian TV reports have highlighted alleged rebel shelling of government-held areas in western Aleppo, saying there were several civilian casualties.