Russia says ready for ‘humanitarian pause’ in Aleppo
Moscow agrees to UN’s plea for 48-hour aid access but not willing to go back to weekly truces in battered city.
Almost 2 million people in Aleppo have been without running water for nearly two weeks [Reuters]
Russia says it wouldsupport a 48-hour ceasefirefrom next week
UN’s de Mistura says aidtrucks are “ready to move”
Western diplomats: “Mustbe UN-run operation”
Russia has said it would support a 48-hour ceasefire inSyria’s Aleppo, a move the United Nations envoy saidwould allow aid to reach besieged areas soon, as long asall sides respected the truce.
As viral images of a dazed child pulled from rubble in theheavily bombarded rebel-held east of the city captured theplight of its civilians and drew the attention of the world,Moscow said it was ready to start the first “humanitarianpause” next week.
Western diplomats gave a cautious welcome to theannouncement, but stressed that the UN must be incharge of a sustained aid operation.
UN envoy Staffan de Mistura has long called for a 48-hour halt in fighting each weekto allow aid delivery and medical evacuations from both rebel-held eastern andgovernment-controlled western Aleppo.
“The Russian defence ministry has laid out several conditions for a weekly 48-hourpause in fighting,” said Al Jazeera’s Reza Sayah, reporting from the Gaziantep on theTurkish-Syrian border.
“It says it’s willing to support the plan as a ‘pilot programme’ for the city of Aleppoonly. That suggests Russia is not ready to back an indefinite weekly pause in violence.It also suggests there’s plenty for all sides to negotiate before the plan goes intoeffect.”
De Mistura welcomed the Russian defence ministry announcement and said a UNhumanitarian team was “now set to mobilise itself to respond to this challenge”.
“Our plan is to collectively work out the operational details, and be ready for deliveryas soon as possible,” de Mistura’s office said in a statement.
Renewed calls for Aleppo ceasefire
Moscow must ensure the Syrian army, its ally,adheres to the pause, while the United Statesand regional powers must make sureopposition fighters are on board, he said.
Aleppo, Syria’s most populous prewar city andonce its commercial hub, has become thefocus of fighting in the five-year-old war.
Some two million people on both sides of thedivided city have been without running waterfor nearly two weeks after infrastructure was damaged by bombing earlier this month.
Escalating violence in and around the city, where Russia and Iran are supportingbombing campaigns against the rebels, some of whom are backed by Arab andWestern powers, caused the breakdown of peace talk in Geneva overseen by deMistura.
Residents in the rebel-controlled half of the city celebrated earlier this month whenrebels broke a month-long government siege that had led to drastic price increasesand shortages of food and fuel, trapping some 300,000 people inside the city’sbattered eastern neighborhoods.
The situation on the ground, though, has not immediately improved, residents told AlJazeera.
Sustained fighting in the area, as the government attempts to retake lost ground, hasmeant that no significant amount of aid has been able to reach the area, according tolocals and aid workers.
The Syrian opposition has said it wants to see a credible pause in the bloodshed andimproved aid access before talks can resume.
“Trucks with food, water and medicine are ready to move immediately andambulances to evacuate urgent medical cases are on standby,” said Jens Laerke,spokesman for the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.