AMMAN: The Russian Ministry of Defense extended a temporary pause in the bombing of rebel-held east Aleppo Thursday evening after a day of pro-opposition protests denouncing the unilateral ceasefire along with sporadic gunfire and shelling within the city.
Moscow extended what it called a “humanitarian truce” by 24 hours at 5pm Damascus time on Thursday, two hours before the first 11-hour truce was set to expire, Syrian state news agency SANA reported. Armed rebel groups in east Aleppo, meanwhile, continue to reject the ceasefire.
“We will not accept any conditions that Russia—an occupying country—is trying to impose on the opposition…including a Russian-proposed humanitarian ceasefire,” Al-Farooq Ahrar, a rebel commander with Ahrar a-Sham in east Aleppo, told Syria Direct on Thursday.
“We’re preparing to begin a battle to break the siege of Aleppo.”
There were no airstrikes in east Aleppo on Thursday, although sporadic gunfire and rocket attacks were reported along the frontline that divides Syria’s largest city. Syrian state media claimed rebel shelling the same day had killed one civilian in government-held west Aleppo.
Protests in east Aleppo on Tuesday against the ceasefire. Photo courtesy of Adnan Mudlij.
As part of the ceasefire, the regime opened humanitarian corridors for any families fleeing the city, people requiring urgent medical care and any rebel looking to surrender, according to SANA. The Syrian Arab Army dropped fliers over encircled east Aleppo city Thursday morning, indicating eight corridors leading out of rebel-held neighborhoods.
Pro-regime and pro-opposition accounts of Thursday’s events diverged sharply. SANA reported that “terrorist organizations” fired rockets on a corridor near the Bustan al-Qasr neighborhood, north of the city’s ancient citadel. Meanwhile, three residents of east Aleppo told Syria Direct that regime snipers fired on civilians in the same area.
Bustan al-Qasr has witnessed intense fighting between rebels and government troops in recent weeks.
“We’re telling residents to get as far away from the Bustan al-Qasr area as possible for their own safety,” Ibrahim Abu al-Layth, a spokesman for the Aleppo Civil Defense, told Syria Direct early Thursday afternoon. “In addition to sniper fire, the regime is shooting on the crossing with heavy automatic fire.”
Syria Direct could not independently verify the claim of regime snipers.
In addition to rocket attacks at Bustan al-Qasr, state media also accused rebels of an RPG attack on the al-Hamadaniyeh district of regime-held west Aleppo that reportedly killed a baby and injured a woman.
The Bustan al-Qasr checkpoint on Thursday. Photo courtesy of Halab Today.
One resident of regime-held west Aleppo expressed hope that the ceasefire would hold.
“I hope that both sides will implement the ceasefire,” Abu Ahmed, a resident of al-Hamadaniyeh, told Syria Direct on Thursday. “We’re exhausted from the war.”
In east Aleppo, scores of residents came out to protest the ceasefire at 3pm on Thursday, burning Russian flags.
“The ceasefire doesn’t serve the people of besieged Aleppo,” Abdul Qadir Abu Saleh, an east Aleppo citizen journalist, told Syria Direct on Thursday. “It serves the interests of the regime as they regroup, equip their soldiers and prepare to storm these neighborhoods.”
Five east Aleppo residents denounced the ceasefire to Syria Direct, claiming that the regime has not allowed anyone in need of critical medical care to leave the city.
“The regime said that they would treat the sick and allow them to leave Aleppo, but this clearly is not happening,” Hassan Rabia al-Haj, a nurse at one of Aleppo city’s few remaining hospitals, told Syria Direct.
The New York-based Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) criticized the ceasefire on Thursday, claiming that the brief cessation of bombing does not address the city’s vast medical needs.
“What the people of Aleppo need is an end to indiscriminate airstrikes on civilian areas, an end to the deliberate targeting of medical facilities—including pediatric clinics and maternity wards—and an end to the crippling siege of their city,” PHR said in a statement published on their website on Monday.
“The ongoing assault against medical care and civilian areas in Syria is a war crime,” the statement added.
Humanitarian aid—both food and medical—has not entered Aleppo since regime forces completed their encirclement of the 250,000-person city in early September.
Russian President Vladimir Putin announced in Berlin on Thursday his willingness to extend the humanitarian ceasefire “for as long as needed.” He affirmed Russia’s readiness to continue the pause on airstrikes “until we face intensification of activities of armed groups in Aleppo.”
Since September 30, 2015, Russian airstrikes have killed as many as 8,000 Syrian civilians according to Airwars, a London-based non-profit organization monitoring international airstrikes in Syria.