Russia says its forces and those of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad have stopped bombing the northern Syrian city of Aleppo ahead of a "humanitarian pause" planned there on Thursday.
Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu made the announcement in televised comments Tuesday, saying the halt in airstrikes went into effect at 10 a.m. local time.
Thursday's halt in fighting is designed to allow civilians to leave the battered city, along with people who are sick or wounded and rebels who want to get out. Russian Lieutenant-General Sergei Rudskoi said there will be two corridors by which people can leave Aleppo and that the pause will be in effect from 08:00 to 16:00.
The United States and some European states have accused Moscow and Syria of committing atrocities in Aleppo, but Russian officials deny that.
U.S. State Department spokesman Mark Toner said Monday the city has been subjected to a campaign of bombardment and airstrikes that can only be seen as an effort to drive out the opposition and civilians living there.
"If there is actually an eight-hour pause in the unremitting suffering of the people of Aleppo, that would be a good thing," Toner said. "But frankly, it's a bit too little too late."
Meanwhile, a new aerial bombardment Monday in Syria flattened residential buildings in a rebel-controlled village in the northern province of Aleppo, killing at least 23 people.
The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the hardest-hit area was in Qaterji, where rescuers were working to pull survivors from the rubble. The new deaths brought the 24-hour toll to 45.
In this photo released early Monday, Oct. 17, 2016 and provided by the Syrian Civil Defense group known as the White Helmets, rescue workers try to remove a boy stuck in the debris of a building in the neighborhood of Qaterji in rebel-held east Aleppo.
Both Syrian and Russian forces have been bombing rebel-held positions in Aleppo for weeks, as Syrian President Bashar al-Assad attempts to regain control of the once-thriving city in the sixth year of the uprising against his government.
One ambulance driver said that in the latest attack Russian aircraft targeted a five- or six-story building. He said dozens of people were pulled from the debris and that hospitals "are full of casualties."
The bombardment came as world diplomats remain stymied in their efforts to end the Syrian fighting, which has claimed more than 300,000 lives.
Several cease-fires in Syria have collapsed, including a recent Russian-U.S. truce plan. Moscow said Monday that peace talks could resume in Lausanne, Switzerland, modeled after Saturday talks between U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, and foreign ministers from Iran, Egypt, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Qatar and Jordan.
Making a joint statement on Yemen, with left - right, US Secretary of State John Kerry, British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson and UN Special Envoy for Yemen Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, at Lancaster House in London, Oct. 16, 2016.
European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini says the EU is not considering sanctioning Russia over its actions in Syria.
"This has not been proposed by any member state," she told reporters Monday in Luxembourg.
Mogherini said there are discussions about sanctions against members of the Assad government, and stressed the need for those who have an influence on the various players in the conflict to find a way to talk and seek solutions.
Her comments came a day after Kerry warned of possible sanctions related to the situation in Syria and harshly criticized Russia's military actions there.
Syria was a focus during his talks Sunday with British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson and the Saturday meeting with Lavrov and the other diplomats.
US outraged by devastation
Kerry said Sunday the officials are disturbed and outraged by the devastation that has hit the northern city of Aleppo.
"This is the largest humanitarian disaster since World War II," he said. "And it could stop tomorrow morning, tonight, if Russia and the Assad regime would behave according to any norm or any standard of decency. But they’ve chosen not to."
Kerry said he and other diplomats have to exhaust every possibility to find a way to halt the fighting.
"We’re going to continue to work at this because no one has a right to just walk away and allow Aleppo to continue to be bombed without making every effort possible in order to stop it," he said.
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