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Aleppo: Russia announces ‘humanitarian pause’ as residents fear devastating ‘final push’ from Putin and Assad

President Vladimir Putin orders 12-hour-truce ‘to avoid senseless victims’ ahead of what is expected to be intensified attack while US is distracted by the presidential election

Wednesday 02 November 2016 13:58 GMT

Moscow has announced a further humanitarian pause in the bombed city of Aleppo which it is feared signals that Russian-backed Syrian forces are on the verge of a final push to oust rebels from the city once and for all.

The break in hostilities is planned for daylight hours on Friday, with two corridors opened for rebels, whom are allowed to take their arms, and six others for civilians and the wounded.

It has been comprehensively rejected by the estimated 8,000 rebel fighters inside east Aleppo’s siege barricades: one group described it as a media stunt for “public consumption”.

Both rebel and Western officials have expressed worries that Russia plans a renewed onslaught while Washington's attention is focused on the American presidential election on 8 November.

There have been several such pauses in which humanitarian passageways have been opened from besieged east Aleppo into government held west Aleppo in recent weeks, but few people have used them.

The rebels and the regime blame each other for preventing people from leaving under the amnesty for neighbouring rebel-held Idlib province by targeting checkpoints with sniper and mortar fire. The UN says both sides could be guilty of war crimes for targeting civilians in shelling.

Russia says it has not bombed the city since 18 October. Rebel activists and residents on the ground report some shelling of their homes and neighbourhoods – although far fewer attacks than the unprecedented bombing campaign which began in September, killing more than 500 people and decimating civilian infrastructure, including medical facilities and the water supply.

Rebels – among them al-Qaeda affiliated al-Nusra, or Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, fighters – last week launched a fierce counterattack including explosives aimed at breaking through the regime’s siege barricades in Dahiyet al-Assad neighbourhood which has since made little headway.

The Russian Defence Ministry said on Wednesday that rebels inside east Aleppo had suffered heavy losses and were effectively trapped.

Aleppo offensive

“All attempts by the rebels to break through in Aleppo have failed,” the ministry said. “The terrorists have suffered heavy losses in lives, weapons and equipment. They have no chance to break out of the city.”

Meanwhile on Wednesday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said that the prospect of further international peace talks aimed at ending the almost six-year-long conflict are delayed “indefinitely”.

Speaking from Athens, Greece, Mr Lavrov told reporters that countries which had funded and armed groups intent on toppling Syrian President Bashar al-Assad had “sabotaged” the diplomatic process.

He did not name any states, but major players in peace talks in favour of the removal of Mr Assad from power include the US, UK, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar.

Retaking Aleppo would be a significant victory for Mr Assad, potentially strengthening his position enough for Russia to begin a military exit from the conflict.

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