Syria announces surprise easing of Aleppo assault

2016-10-05 22:18
Syrians inspect damaged buildings after airstrikes by government helicopters on the rebel-held Aleppo neighbourhood of Mashhad. (Syrian Civil Defence White Helmets via AP)

Syrians inspect damaged buildings after airstrikes by government helicopters on the rebel-held Aleppo neighbourhood of Mashhad. (Syrian Civil Defence White Helmets via AP)

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Damascus - Syria's military on Wednesday announced a surprise reduction in bombardment of rebel groups in devastated Aleppo, nearly two weeks after declaring an all-out assault to capture the city.

Aleppo city was once Syria's thriving commercial hub, but it now lies divided between rebels in the east and regime forces in the west.

Syria's government announced a large-scale offensive to capture the whole city on September 22, ushering in a ferocious bombing campaign on opposition-held quarters.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 270 people, including 53 children, had been killed in air raids on the eastern districts since the assault began.

But on Wednesday, Syria's military said it would reduce the bombardment "after the success of our armed forces in Aleppo and cutting off all terrorist supply routes into the eastern districts".

"The military command has decided to reduce the number of airstrikes and artillery on terrorist positions to allow civilians that want to leave to reach safe areas," the statement carried by news agency SANA said.

It was not immediately clear what was behind the move, or if Russian airstrikes would also be reduced.

Forces loyal to President Bashar Assad have been waging their offensive in the city centre, the northern outskirts, and the southern edges of Aleppo with the backing of Russian air power.

But the onslaught has come under fierce international scrutiny amid accusations the joint airstrikes were destroying the east's civilian infrastructure.

On Monday, bombardment destroyed the largest hospital in rebel-held quarters, where an estimated 250 000 people live under government siege.

Hours later, the US announced it would suspend bilateral efforts with Moscow at reviving a ceasefire, accusing Russia of trying to bomb Syrian civilians "into submission".

Push for Aleppo truce

Moscow and Washington's top diplomats had been working together since early this year to reach a diplomatic solution to Syria's bloodshed, which has killed more than 300 000 people since 2011.

An agreement in September had envisioned an end to hostilities, increased aid deliveries, and eventual co-ordination between the two world powers against jihadists - but it collapsed after a week.

Since then, France has stepped into the diplomatic vacuum with a draft United Nations resolution on a ceasefire in Aleppo that it will submit to the Security Council this week.

French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault will travel to Moscow on Thursday and Washington on Friday to try to garner support for the draft, his office said.

The resolution is aimed at "paving the way to a ceasefire in Aleppo and for the local population to gain access to the humanitarian aid it so needs", the foreign ministry said.

It calls for aid deliveries to the city's east and the grounding of all Syrian and Russian planes in that area.

The city's eastern half was officially declared a "besieged area" by the United Nations on Wednesday, after months of fierce fighting and lack of access for aid workers.

The designation would bring the estimated number of besieged people across Syria to over 850 000, according to UN figures.

Russia and the US back opposing sides of Syria's war, with Washington lending support to some rebel groups and Moscow bolstering Assad both militarily and diplomatically.

Read more on:    us  |  russia  |  syria  |  syria conflict

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