Syrian army to reduce air strikes on Aleppo

This Tuesday, Oct. 4, 2016 photo, provided by the White Helmets, shows Civil Defense workers digging in the rubles to remove bodies and look for survivors, after airstrikes hit the Bustan al-Basha neighborhood in Aleppo, Syria. (AP)

The general command of Syria’s army has decided to reduce the number of air strikes and shelling of what it describes as terrorist positions in Aleppo to alleviate the humanitarian situation there, a Syrian military source said on Wednesday.

In a statement also carried on state media, the army command said that civilians in rebel-held eastern Aleppo were being used as human shields and that the reduction in the bombardment would allow those who wished to do so to depart for safer areas.

Syria’s army, backed by allied Shiite militias from Lebanon and Iraq, and by Russian air power, launched a new offensive against eastern Aleppo last month after the collapse of a week-long ceasefire, assisted by a massive bombardment.

The decision to reduce the air strikes and artillery bombardment came after the army’s advances had succeeded in cutting all the entry roads into Aleppo used by insurgents, the statement said.

Since the offensive began on Sept. 19, the army and its allies have made territorial gains in the northern part of Aleppo, capturing the Handarat refugee camp, and have gained smaller areas in the south and in the city center.

The scale of the bombardment has led to criticism from Western countries.

France makes new push for ceasefire

France is to launch a new push for United Nations backing for a ceasefire in Syria that would allow aid into the city of Aleppo after some of the heaviest bombing of the war.

As diplomatic efforts resumed, a Syrian military source said army commanders had decided to scale back air strikes and shelling in Aleppo to alleviate the humanitarian situation there.

The Syrian army command said civilians in rebel-held eastern Aleppo were being used as human shields and a reduced level of bombardment would allow people to leave for safer areas.

France said Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault would travel to Russia and the United States on Thursday and Friday to try to persuade both sides to adopt a Security Council resolution to impose a new truce.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and US Secretary of State John Kerry, architects of a ceasefire that collapsed last month amid bitter recriminations, discussed Syria by telephone on Wednesday, but no details emerged.

The Russian Foreign Ministry confirmed that Lavrov would meet Ayrault in Moscow on Thursday.

The French minister's trip comes after the collapse of a ceasefire brokered by the United States and Russia last month, which has been followed by intense Syrian and Russian bombing of rebel-held areas of Aleppo. Washington broke off talks with Moscow on Monday, accusing Russia of breaking its commitments.

For the past two weeks, a Russian-backed Syrian government offensive has been under way to capture eastern Aleppo and crush the last urban stronghold of a revolt against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad that began in 2011.

“This trip is in the framework of efforts by France to get a resolution adopted at the U.N. Security Council opening the path for a ceasefire in Aleppo and aid access for populations that need it so much,” the French foreign ministry said.

The Security Council began negotiations on Monday on a French and Spanish draft resolution that urges Russia and the United States to ensure an immediate truce in Aleppo and to “put an end to all military flights over the city.”

Russian UN Ambassador Vitaly Churkin said on Monday that Moscow was engaged in discussions on the draft text even if he was not especially enthusiastic about its language.

The draft text, seen by Reuters, urges Russia and the United States “to ensure the immediate implementation of the cessation of hostilities, starting with Aleppo, and, to that effect, to put an end to all military flights over the city.”

The draft also asks UN chief Ban Ki-moon to propose options for UN-supervised monitoring of a truce and threatens to “take further measures” in the event of non-compliance by “any party to the Syrian domestic conflict.”

A French diplomatic source said: “It’s all that’s left. We’re not fools. The Russians aren’t going to begin respecting human rights from one day to the next, but it’s all we have to put pressure on them.”

Last Update: Wednesday, 20 May 2020 KSA 09:48 - GMT 06:48