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Heavy Syrian army shelling hits rebel Aleppo

Syrian government artillery bombarded the fast-shrinking rebel enclave in the heart of Aleppo

Published: Updated:

Syrian government artillery bombarded the fast-shrinking rebel enclave in the heart of Aleppo on Friday despite its ally Russia’s announcement of a new humanitarian pause, a monitor said.

Air strikes halted on Thursday evening following Moscow’s announcement but shelling continued throughout the night and into the morning, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

An AFP correspondent in the rebel-held enclave reported hearing the boom of artillery through the night.

“There was heavy shelling of several besieged districts and fierce fighting, particularly in Bustan al-Qasr,” one of the biggest districts still in rebel hands after the army’s blistering three-week offensive, Observatory chief Rami Abdel Rahman told AFP.

After talks with US Secretary of State John Kerry in the German city of Hamburg on Thursday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov announced a pause in the army’s assault to allow for the evacuation of some of the tens of thousands of civilians trapped in the now tiny rebel enclave.

The army has recaptured 85 percent of the eastern sector of the city which the rebels had held since summer 2012.

“I can tell you that today combat operations by the Syrian army have been halted in eastern Aleppo because there is a large operation under way to evacuate civilians,” Lavrov said. “There is going to be to a column of 8,000 evacuees.”

In Washington, White House spokesman Josh Earnest said Lavrov’s announcement was “an indication that something positive could happen.”

The army’s bombardment of rebel-held districts killed at least 18 civilians on Thursday, according to the Observatory, a Britain-based monitoring group which has a wide network of sources on the ground.

Kremlin: US easing of arms embargo for Syrian rebels risky

The Kremlin said on Friday a US decision to lift some restrictions on arms deliveries to Syrian rebels was risky because weapons might end up in the hands of “terrorists.”

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on a conference call that such a scenario, if it came to pass, would pose a threat to the Middle East and to Russian forces in Syria.

Commenting on US-Russian efforts to strike a deal to facilitate the safe passage of Syrian rebels from eastern Aleppo, Peskov said the Kremlin hoped an agreement could be reached, but said talks on the subject were complex and kept faltering due to decisions taken by the United States.