Russia says it is extending a moratorium on airstrikes on the center of the devastated Syrian city of Aleppo and says allied Syrian forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad are also refraining from aerial strikes targeting rebel-held sectors.
The Russian claim came Tuesday from Lt. Gen. Sergei Rudskoi, who said Russian and Syrian warplanes have remained 10 kilometers from the city’s center for a week.
The Russian drawdown has not been confirmed and appears to contradict claims from monitors linked to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. The Observatory reported the resumption of airstrikes Saturday, just hours after a three-day cease-fire ended without visible progress toward a more durable truce.
Since those initial reports, monitors have described ground fighting in and near rebel-occupied eastern sectors of Aleppo and have reported airstrikes largely confined to the outskirts of the once vibrant city.
Separately Tuesday, Russian military spokesman Igor Konashenkov said six humanitarian passages established ahead of last week’s cease-fire remained open for people who want to leave the city’s rebel-held east.
But in a climate of widespread distrust of the Syrian government and its Russian ally, witnesses said few civilians or rebels have used the lull to escape the city’s wreckage. There were also accusations from Russia and Syria that rebels had prevented people from using the corridors to flee.
As many as 300,000 civilians are thought to be trapped in eastern Aleppo, with little food or emergency medical supplies. No aid has entered the city since early July, and the United Nations warns that food rations will run out by the end of this month.
United Nations relief chief Stephen O'Brien expressed frustration that medical evacuations that were supposed to accompany the cease-fire did not take place. Plans for those evacuations were scuttled after groups fighting in eastern Aleppo could not provide security assurances for medical workers.
"I am outraged that the fate of vulnerable civilians – sick and injured people, children and the elderly, all in need of critical and life-saving support – rests mercilessly in the hands of parties who have consistently and unashamedly failed to put them above narrow political and military interests," he said.
O'Brien’s comments came hours after Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said the Kremlin will not consider another halt in fighting for Aleppo.
Ryabkov said any new truce would require “our opponents” to ensure what he called “appropriate behavior’ by “anti-government fighters.” He also accused unnamed anti-government groups of sabotaging medical evacuations that had been scheduled to take place during the cease-fire.
In a separate foreign ministry statement Monday, Moscow again called on the United States to ensure the separation of jihadist fighters in Aleppo from what it called "moderate opposition fighters" seeking to drive Assad from power.