The Russian and Syrian air forces have halted all airstrikes on Aleppo, two days before a planned pause in bombing, the Russian defense minister said on Tuesday.
Assad regime, backed by Russia, said on September 22 it was starting a new wide offensive to recapture the rebel-held parts of Aleppo after a week-long ceasefire was declared officially over on 19 September.
Since 19 September, more than 800 civilians were killed and more than 2000 injured in rebel-held areas of Aleppo province, including the besieged eastern part of the city, Civil defense workers said.
The announcement, by Sergei Shoigu, follows a promise made by Moscow on Monday to pause strikes on Thursday for eight hours.
Shoigu, in a televised meeting with military officials, said strikes had been halted from 1000 local time (0700 GMT) on Tuesday to help guarantee the safety of six corridors for civilian evacuation and to prepare for the removal of sick and wounded people from eastern Aleppo.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group said Russian warplanes had launched heavy raids on Aleppo early on Tuesday, but that it had been quiet after that.
Shoigu said Russia now expected militants to leave Aleppo, with their weapons, via two special corridors, one via the Castello Road and the other near the Al-Khai Souq market.
Assad regime troops would be pulled back to allow the militants to leave unhindered, he promised.
“We call on the leadership of countries that have influence over armed groups in eastern Aleppo to convince their leaders to stop military action and abandon the city,” he said.
“Everyone really interested in the fastest possible stabilization of the situation in the city of Aleppo should take genuine political steps and not continue shuffling political papers.”
After the ceasefire was declared, the EU ministers said that they would press ahead with extending sanctions against Assad regime, but stopped short of threatening measures against Russia.
Federica Mogherini, EU foreign affairs chief, called Russia’s announcement “positive” but not long enough to allow humanitarian aid to reach Aleppo.
“It can be a start … for sure it is a positive step,” she said at the close of the ministerial meeting in Luxembourg.
“The latest assessment from the aid agencies [however] is that 12 hours is needed so work is needed to find common ground.”
The UN welcomed the declaration but said at least 12 hours will be needed for that to happen.
“Any lessening of the violence, lessening of the fighting, any pause that’s actually implemented, would be very much welcome,” U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric told reporters.
“We will use whatever pause we have to do whatever we can. Obviously there is a need for a longer pause in order to get (aid) trucks in,” he said.
The Assad regime forces, backed by Russian air power, Iranian ground forces and Shi’ite militia fighters from Iran, Iraq, and Lebanon, has been tightening its grip on rebel-held districts of Aleppo this year, and this summer achieved a long-held goal of fully encircling the area.
Recovering full control of the rebels’ last significant urban area would be the most important victory of the war so far for Assad, strengthening his control over Syria’s most populous and strategically important regions.