Truce Holds in Aleppo but UN Delays Evacuations
TEHRAN (Tasnim) – The UN said Friday that security concerns had forced it to delay planned evacuations from Syria's Aleppo, despite a truce that was largely holding for a second day in the ravaged city.
The unilateral "humanitarian pause" in the Syrian government's Russia-backed attack on the militants east of the city was intended to allow civilians and opposition forces to leave.
But there was no sign that either civilians or militants were heeding calls to depart, with Damascus and Moscow accusing opposition fighters of preventing evacuations.
The truce was initially described as lasting just 11 hours, but Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu announced late Thursday that it would be extended "by 24 hours," leaving it unclear exactly when it would end.
East Aleppo, which the militants captured in 2012, has been under siege by the army since mid-July and has faced bombardment by the government and its ally Russia.
Nearly 500 people have been killed, more than a quarter of them children, since the assault began. More than 2,000 civilians have been wounded.
The scale of the casualties has prompted outrage in the West, with Washington saying the bombardment amounted to a possible war crime.
Russia announced a halt to its airstrikes from Tuesday and the unilateral ceasefire from Thursday.
The Syrian army says it has opened eight corridors across the front line for the more than 250,000 civilians in militant-held areas to leave but so far almost none have taken up the offer.
"There has been no movement in the corridors in the eastern district. For the moment, we haven't seen any movement of residents or fighters," said Rami Abdel Rahman, head of the so-called Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
An AFP correspondent on the government-held side of one crossing in the Bustan al-Qasr district also reported no movement early Friday.
He said just eight people passed through Thursday.
Syrian state media accused militants of preventing people from leaving the opposition-held side of the city.
The United Nations had hoped to use the truce to evacuate injured people from the city, and possibly deliver aid.
On Thursday, UN humanitarian task force Chief Jan Egeland said Russia, the Syrian government and militants had given permission for medical evacuations.
But Friday afternoon, a spokesman said the operation had been delayed because of security concerns.
"Medical evacuations of sick and injured could unfortunately not begin this morning as planned because the necessary conditions were not in place," said Jens Laerke, spokesman for the United Nations humanitarian office.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov accused militants of violating the ceasefire "and preventing the evacuation of the population," in a telephone call with his US counterpart John Kerry Thursday.
Moscow and Damascus have called on civilians to leave so that their offensive can focus on former Al-Qaeda affiliate, the Fateh al-Sham Front.
Moscow has shown no sign that its intervention in support of its Syrian ally will end any time soon, despite criticism of the civilian death toll and allegations hospitals have been hit.