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The New Arab

Russia says Syrian regime attacks on Aleppo halted

Regime forces have taken around 80 percent of the former rebel stronghold [AFP]

Date of publication: 9 December, 2016

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Russia's Foreign Minister on Thursday said the Syrian regime’s army has halted attacks on Aleppo to allow for the evacuation of civilians from the beleaguered city.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Thursday said that the Syrian regime’s army has halted attacks on Aleppo to allow for the evacuation of civilians from the rebel-held part of the beleaguered city. 

"I can tell you that today, combat operations by the Syrian army have been halted in eastern Aleppo because there is a large operation underway to evacuate civilians," he said in Hamburg, Germany, cited by Russian news agencies.

"There is going to be to a column of 8,000 evacuees" travelling five kilometres (3 miles), added the Russian minister, attending a meeting of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).

In Washington, White House spokesman Josh Earnest said the announcement was "an indication that something positive could happen".

Lavrov meanwhile announced that US-Russia military and diplomatic discussions would take place in Geneva on Saturday "to end the work... to define the means of resolving the problems of east Aleppo".

The discussions would notably study plans to evacuate rebel fighters and civilians who want to leave, according to the Russian minister.

Lavrov and his US counterpart John Kerry briefly talked Thursday in the sidelines of the OSCE meeting, but a US official said there was no progress or conclusions on Aleppo.

The two men had seen each other the previous evening in Hamburg, but were unable to make any progress on a plan for a cessation of fighting and evacuation of rebels and civilians in Aleppo.

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Rebel fighters are on the verge of losing control of their last strongholds in the face of Syrian troops backed by Russia and Iran.

Lavrov's announcement came after six western countries including the United States called for an immediate ceasefire in the face of the humanitarian catastrophe in Aleppo, urging Russia and Iran to use their influence on the Syrian regime to secure a truce.

UN aid official Jan Egeland on Thursday said that the Syrian government has authorised UN-organised aid shipments into eastern Aleppo for the first time.

Egeland provided no details about how the aid might get in or where it would go in eastern Aleppo, where President Bashar Assad's forces have made recent inroads to recapture areas from opposition fighters.

Speaking from Geneva, Egeland said efforts to evacuate hundreds of wounded people from east Aleppo stalled after a deadly attack on a Russian military hospital in government-controlled west Aleppo last week.

He said the government "finally" agreed to a UN plan to deliver aid across front lines. However, such approvals do not always result in actual aid deliveries.

Syria's government is three weeks into an operation to recapture east Aleppo – in rebel hands since 2012.

It now holds around 80 percent of the former opposition stronghold, and has advanced quickly.

At least 384 civilians, including 45 children, have been killed in government fire on east Aleppo since the operation began, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

Another 105 civilians, including 35 children, have been killed in rebel fire on government-held west Aleppo in the same period, the British-based monitor says.

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