Russia says it has extended a “humanitarian pause” in its attacks on rebel-held Aleppo for another 24 hours, on the second of four consecutive daytime unilateral ceasefires in the city that have been rejected by the rebels.
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 Assad regime said on October 20 that a unilateral ceasefire backed by Russia had come into force to allow people to leave besieged eastern Aleppo.
On the first day, state media earlier said the army had opened exit corridors in two designated areas in the Bustan al-Qasr quarter and near the Castello road in northern Aleppo city. Waiting buses were shown on state television.
For a second day, Syrian state television broadcast footage of green city buses and ambulances waiting to transport people who opt to leave eastern Aleppo after they dropped leaflets there advertising safe corridors through the front lines.
However, very few rebels or civilians appear to have left, sources say.
Pro-government media has accused the rebels of stopping people from leaving, saying they are using civilians as human shields, and say that rebels have been shelling the corridors out of eastern Aleppo to prevent departures.
Rebels have said they cannot accept the ceasefire, which they say does nothing to alleviate the situation of those who choose to remain in rebel-held Aleppo, and believe it is part of a government policy to purge cities of political opponents.
“The initiative came at the same time as forced displacement operations are being carried out by the Assad regime in (the Damascus suburbs) of al-Mouadamiya, Qudsiya and al-Hama, and before that in Daraya,” a joint statement by rebel groups fighting under the banner of the Free Syrian Army, and the Syrian National Coalition, an opposition political body, said.
The rebels added that they were preparing a large-scale offensive to break the siege of Aleppo.
“The coming battle is not going to be like others. We are waiting for the signal of the start of a decisive battle which will surprise the regime and its militias,” Abu Obeida al-Ansari, a commander from Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, formerly known as al-Nusra Front, said in a statement on social media.
Russian media said that the rebels have already started moving.
“The militants have used the opportunity to launch a new offensive,” RT reported.
“More than 1,200 militants equipped with tanks, armored vehicles, and portable heavy machine guns have amassed for an attack on Aleppo from the southwest, Rudskoy said, adding that there are also some 30 suicide bombers within their ranks,” the report added.
“It has also been reported that the terrorists have recently begun receiving shoulder-fired missiles,” RT finalized.
What the locals really want?
The civilians of Aleppo, inside and out of the besieged areas, had different opinions about the humanitarian pause, the exit corridors, and the rebels role.
Some of them said that they will not leave their homes, even if it meant death, adding that the regime’s shows don’t convince anyone.
“They talk about humanitarian corridors, but why are they not allowing food into besieged eastern Aleppo to alleviate our suffering? We only need the Russian bombers to stop killing our children. We don’t want to leave,” said Ammar al-Qaran, a resident in Sakhour district.
“All corridors are empty. People of Aleppo will never leave homes. If Russians use all internationally-banned bombs and warplanes, we will never leave,” one of the locals said.
“If Russian and Assad forces are fearing for the civilians, why have they laid siege on them when they cut the road of al-Castello?” a woman from the besieged Aleppo wondered.
“It seems that the whole world gave Russia a green light to kill us. If they really cared for us they would stop our siege long ago, but they are powerless. We will stay in this area and defend it with our souls before allowing Assad regime to retrieve it or to end our revolution,” another local added.
However, other civilians had opposing thoughts.
“We are in a living hell, we are being bombed every day and night. Our relatives are dead, our city is destroyed, and if this siege continues we are all doomed,” Ahmad, a local in the besieged areas told MEO.
“We don’t care who wins this fight. This is not what we wanted and uprose for. If the regime wants the rebels to surrender in exchange for peace, let them surrender,” Ahmad added.
“Our area has been under siege for too long and the rebels can’t do anything about that. They started a battle to break the siege but it ended shortly and our situation worsened after that. The rebels’ ranks are scattered and don’t have a unified opinion. If they can’t organize themselves to win this fight, why they are just prolonging our suffer?” Salah, an engineer from Aleppo living in Germany, quoted his parents who live in the besieged areas.
“Food and aid have been blocked for weeks. We can’t anything to buy in our area. My children are starving to death. I don’t care who wins this fight. We just want our children to restore their stolen lives again,” Um Khalil, a former teacher who live in the besieged areas, 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.