Russia says it extends moratorium on Aleppo air strikes

October 25, 2016 11:44 AM EDT

Smoke rises after strikes on Syria Democratic Forces (SDF) controlled Tell Rifaat town, northern Aleppo province, Syria October 22, 2016. REUTERS/Khalil Ashawi


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By Andrew Osborn and Lisa Barrington

MOSCOW/BEIRUT (Reuters) - Russia said on Tuesday it would extend a moratorium on air strikes on Syria's Aleppo into a ninth day, but a monitor and a civil defense official said that rebel-held parts of the divided city had been struck in recent days.

Defence ministry spokesman Major-General Igor Konashenkov said Russian and Syrian planes had not even approached, let alone bombed, the devastated city since last Tuesday when Russia suspended air strikes ahead of a pause in hostilities.

That moratorium on air strikes was being extended, Sergei Rudskoi, a defense ministry official, said separately on Tuesday, without specifying for how long.

Rudskoi said that meant planes from Syria and Russia, which has been Damascus's most powerful ally in its six-year-old civil war, would continue to stay out of a 10-km (six-mile) zone around Aleppo.

But the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said air strikes had resumed since the lull in fighting ended on Saturday, focusing on major front lines, including in the city's southwest. There had been no civilian deaths from air strikes inside eastern Aleppo, however, the monitor said.

Ibrahim Abu al-Laith, a civil defense official in eastern Aleppo, also said air strikes and shelling had hit the rebel-held half of the city near front lines in the past week.

"There was artillery shelling ... and there were planes, the city was hit by several strikes," he said.

The U.S. State Department urged Russia to use the newly announced pause in bombing to ensure the delivery of aid to besieged civilians.

"We obviously welcome any reduction in the violence, but it has to be met with a commitment and an actual delivery of humanitarian assistance, which was the purpose in the first place," State Department spokesman John Kirby told a briefing.

He said Washington would prefer putting in place a longer-term cease-fire to ensure delivery of aid, rather than sporadic pauses like those announced by Russia and Syria in recent days. Multilateral talks in Geneva were attempting to reach that goal, but were having limited success, Kirby said.

"I don't want to couch this as nothing but failure. There has been some progress made, but there's obviously still more work to be done," he told reporters.

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter urged a renewal of the ceasefire in separate telephone calls with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Tuesday, according to ministry officials.

He expressed disappointment that it had not been possible to evacuate wounded people from Aleppo and bring in humanitarian relief supplies during the pause in the fighting.

On Tuesday, districts outside the city to the west were hit by air strikes, the Observatory said. Air strikes had continued outside Aleppo during the ceasefire.

DIVIDED CITY

Aleppo, Syria's most populous city before the war erupted, is now divided into government- and rebel-held areas. Intense bombardment by Syrian and Russian warplanes has reduced the rebel-controlled east to ruins.

Russia has accused rebels of thwarting its efforts to evacuate civilians, saying they open fire on those wanting to leave, but rebel groups say Syrian government forces and allies have been shelling and sniping around the corridors.

Rebels did not accept the ceasefire, which they said did nothing to alleviate the situation of those who remained in eastern Aleppo, and was part of a government policy to purge cities of political opponents.

Rudskoi said around 50 women and children had managed to leave Aleppo late on Monday despite the dangers and were escorted by Russian military officers.

Some Western countries have repeatedly accused Russia of killing civilians during its air campaign in Aleppo. Moscow denies this, saying it targets rebel groups inside the city.

(Additional reporting by Maria Kiselyova and Denis Pinchuk in Moscow, Andrea Shalal in Berlin, David Alexander in Washington; Editing by Mark Heinrich and Jonathan Oatis)



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