Sunday 22 April 2018

Mortars strike 'safe' exit corridors during Aleppo ceasefire

Syrian pro-government soldiers make their way through the rubble of building in the '3000' apartment block area, in al-Hamdaniyah, in eastern Aleppo. Photo: AFP/Getty Images
Syrian pro-government soldiers make their way through the rubble of building in the '3000' apartment block area, in al-Hamdaniyah, in eastern Aleppo. Photo: AFP/Getty Images
A Syrian pro-government soldier stants next to a tank at the '1070' apartment block area, south of al-Hamdaniyah, in eastern Aleppo. Photo: AFP/Getty Images
A picture taken on November 4, 2016 from a rebel-held eastern neighbourhood of Aleppo near Souq al-Hal market shows an empty street leading to a crossing point with the government-held neighbourhood of al-Masharka as evacuation corridors opened as part of a Russian-declared ceasefire for Aleppo's opposition-held areas. Photo: AFP/Getty Images

Sarah El Deeb in Beirut

Two Russian soldiers and a local journalist were injured in Aleppo yesterday when mortar rounds struck one of the exit corridors designated for the evacuation of rebels and residents from the besieged Syrian city during a temporary halt in fighting.

For several hours into the 10-hour halt, no one approached the corridors, and webcam footage shared by the Russian Defence Ministry also showed no activities there.

By early afternoon, however, about four hours before the halt expired, Syrian state media said seven mortar shells from the rebel-held side of the city hit one of the corridors in the northern part of Aleppo.

The Russian Defence Ministry said the two Russian servicemen were wounded during a rebel shelling of the humanitarian corridor in the western section of the Castello road in north Aleppo. Their lives were not in danger, the statement said.

Syrian state TV said a correspondent for a pro-government station was wounded by shrapnel.

The halt in fighting was unilaterally announced by Russia. The Syrian government has largely abided by the halt and there has been no reported shelling in the besieged part of the city. There was no UN monitoring at the corridors.

UN officials at a regular news conference in Geneva would not directly comment on the Russian initiative, but reiterated that security conditions were not adequate for deliveries of aid into eastern Aleppo and stepped up calls for a nationwide truce - not just in the city.

Asked whether the Russian plan offered a window of opportunity for humanitarian aid convoys, Jens Laerke, spokesman for the UN aid agency OCHA, said: "I'm trying my best not to comment on the actual initiative, but to state what the situation is."

Jessy Chahine, a spokeswoman for UN Syria envoy Staffan de Mistura, added: "Anything that contributes to saving lives is more than welcome. The special envoy is against the evacuation of civilians, unless it is voluntary."

Earlier, Syrian state TV showed footage from one of the designated corridors, with buses parked to transport anyone coming out of eastern Aleppo. Police and an Islamic cleric were waiting at the crossing. A Civil Defence volunteer in Aleppo, Ibrahim al-Haj, said that no one left in the early afternoon.

Amnesty International said fears for the safety of civilians in the city are mounting amid "the looming threat of a resumption and a possible escalation of the fighting" once the humanitarian pause expires.

Irish Independent

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