Moscow says Russia and Syria are halting Aleppo air strikes for now
MOSCOWThe Russian and Syrian air forces have halted all air strikes on Aleppo, two days ahead of a planned pause in bombing designed to allow rebels and civilians to leave the city, the Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said on Oct. 18.
The announcement follows a promise made by Moscow on Oct. 17 to pause strikes on Oct. 20 for eight hours.
Shoigu, in a televised meeting with military officials, said strikes had been halted from 10:00 a.m. local time (7:00 a.m. GMT) on Oct. 18 to help guarantee the safety of six corridors for civilian evacuation and to prepare for the removal of sick and wounded people from eastern Aleppo.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group said Russian warplanes had launched heavy raids on Aleppo early on Oct. 18, but that it had been quiet after that.
Shoigu said Russia now expected militants to leave Aleppo, with their weapons, via two special corridors, one via the Castello Road and the other near the Al-Khai Souq market.
Syrian troops would be pulled back to allow the militants to leave unhindered, he promised.
“We call on the leadership of countries that have influence over armed groups in eastern Aleppo to convince their leaders to stop military action and abandon the city,” he said.
“Everyone really interested in the fastest possible stabilization of the situation in the city of Aleppo should take genuine political steps and not continue shuffling political papers.”
Military experts would meet in Geneva on Oct. 19 to start work on separating “terrorists” from Syria’s moderate opposition, Shoigu said, adding that Russian specialists had already arrived there.
Meanwhile, Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin said Oct. 17 that Turkey, Qatar and Saudi Arabia have agreed to military talks with the United States and Russia on efforts to distance Syrian opposition fighters from the al-Qaeda-linked al-Nusra Front.
“Those countries did express their intention to work hard with those moderate opposition groups in order for them to be separated from al-Nusra,” Churkin told reporters.
EU condemns Russia over Aleppo
The European Union on Oct. 17 condemned Russia’s air campaign in Syria, saying it may be guilty of war crimes, and it vowed to impose more sanctions on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s government.
Calling for an immediate cease-fire in rebel-held east Aleppo, the European Union’s 28 foreign ministers sought to show their anger at the Russian-backed campaign, which has killed several hundred people including dozens of children since the collapse of a truce brokered by Russia and the United States.
“Since the beginning of the offensive by the regime and its allies, notably Russia, the intensity and scale of the aerial bombardment of eastern Aleppo is clearly disproportionate,” the EU said in a statement. Some 275,000 people are believed to be trapped in the area.
The bloc berated Moscow for “the deliberate targeting of hospitals, medical personnel, schools and essential infrastructure,” saying that targeting civilians with barrel bombs and chemical weapons “may amount to war crimes.”
The EU said the atrocities in Syria should be referred to the International Criminal Court, although it was unclear how or when.
It called for an immediate end to conflict, so a peace process could start after almost six years of war, seeking a wider role for EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini to talk to regional powers including Iran, Turkey and Saudi Arabia.
The European Union also said it was ready to put more Syrians under travel bans and asset freezes, suspecting them of directing attacks on civilians in Aleppo. That is in addition to the EU’s existing sanctions list and its oil and arms embargo.
The EU has a list of 208 people and 69 companies under sanctions, and that was likely to grow to pressure the Assad government and those benefiting from it, diplomats said.
In their statement, EU foreign ministers said the EU will act “swiftly ... with the aim of imposing further restrictive measures against Syria, targeting Syrian individuals and entities supporting the regime as long as the repression continues.”