Kareem Shaheen in Istanbul
Friday 9 December 2016 11.54 EST
The bombardment of Aleppo will continue as long as opposition fighters remain in the Syrian city, Russia’s foreign minister has said a day after pledging to halt combat operations to allow civilians to leave.
“After a humanitarian pause [the strikes] have resumed and will continue for as long as the bandits are still in Aleppo,” Sergei Lavrov told journalists on Friday at a meeting of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe.
Aleppo’s besieged east came under sustained attack on Thursday night and throughout Friday despite Lavrov’s claims of a humanitarian pause, raising questions about the Kremlin’s commitment to a ceasefire deal and its leverage over President Bashar al-Assad.
Residents of east Aleppo said a number of neighbourhoods had been subjected to relentless bombardment, including rocket attacks, helicopter bombings and gunfire.
“Bombing never stops,” said Abdulkafi al-Hamdo, a teacher in east Aleppo, in a text message.
On Friday the UN’s human rights office expressed concern about the fate of civilians who had left rebel-held areas, saying there were reports that hundreds of men from eastern Aleppo had gone missing after crossing into regime-controlled districts.
Assad’s forces are within sight of a key victory in the war, now in its sixth year, having seized more than two-thirds of east Aleppo, including the historic Old City. Their defiance of the Russian pledge for a brief ceasefire highlights their confidence that reclaiming the city is within reach, and the limits of Moscow’s influence over its allies’ actions.
“Aleppo will completely change the course of the battle in all of Syria,” Assad said in an interview with the Syrian newspaper al-Watan.
Rebel fighters had called for a five-day ceasefire to evacuate the wounded and any civilians wishing to leave. They said they had discussed the mechanics of the evacuation with the UN but had been stymied by a lack of cooperation from Moscow.
People aligned with the military opposition say they were compelled to withdraw from other districts earlier this week to avoid being cut off and besieged, but say they will not retreat beyond the current frontlines.
Turkey, a stalwart backer of the rebels, accused the Assad regime on Thursday of committing war crimes and crimes against humanity but said it was involved in negotiations with Russia over a possible ceasefire.
“The developments in Aleppo are of serious concern for all of us,” said Ibrahim Kalin, a spokesman for the Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. “The regime continues to openly commit war crimes and crimes against humanity. We call for an end to the clashes and the delivery of humanitarian aid. We continue our diplomatic efforts for Aleppo.”
Meanwhile, the opposition claimed chlorine gas had been deployed on one of its neighbourhoods, al-Kallaseh, on Thursday afternoon.
“To everyone who is able to help, to all governments, journalists, civil society organisations, Aleppo is dying,” said Abu Jaafar, a forensic medicine doctor in east Aleppo, in an audio message. “There are massacres everywhere. They are killing everyone. Stop the massacres targeting what is left of people and stones. I urge you to use all of your power to save whoever is left. We are done here. This may be my last call.”
Let's march...we need to do something!!!
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