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UN Welcomes Russian Words on Aleppo Truce, Says Aid Trucks Are Ready

FILE - A civil defense member inspects the damage after the agency's center was hit by an airstrike in a rebel-held area of Aleppo, Syria, Aug. 12, 2016.

Russia said Thursday that it would support a 48-hour cease-fire in Aleppo, a move the U.N. Syria envoy said would allow aid to reach besieged areas soon, as long as all sides respected the temporary truce.

Moscow said it was ready to start the first "humanitarian pause" next week.

U.N. Special Envoy Staffan de Mistura has long called for a 48-hour halt in fighting each week to allow aid delivery and medical evacuations from both rebel-held eastern and government-controlled western Aleppo. He welcomed the Russian Defense Ministry tweet and said the U.N. humanitarian team "is now set to mobilize itself to respond to this challenge."

"Our plan is to collectively work out the operational details and be ready for delivery as soon as possible," de Mistura's office said in a statement.

Moscow must ensure that its allied Syrian government forces adhere to the pause, while the United States and regional powers must ensure that the opposition fighters are also on board, he said.

Millions in need

Aleppo, Syria's most populous pre-war city and its commercial hub, has become the focus of fighting in the five-year-old civil war. Up to 2 million people on both sides lack clean water after infrastructure was damaged in bombing.

Escalating violence there, where Russia and Iran are supporting bombing campaigns against the rebels, some of whom are backed by Arab and Western powers, has caused the breakdown of Geneva peace talks overseen by de Mistura.

The Syrian opposition has said it wants to see a credible pause in the bloodshed and improved humanitarian aid access before peace talks resume.

"Trucks with food, water and medicine are ready to move immediately, and ambulances to evacuate urgent medical cases are on standby," said Jens Laerke, spokesman for the U.N. Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

A Western diplomat said it was important for the United Nations to lead the aid effort.

"It is not a Russian operation. It has to be a U.N. operation to be a good and credible operation," the diplomat told Reuters. "It would start at the beginning of next week on condition that there is an agreement between the U.N., Russia and the [Syrian] regime on modalities."