Beirut-Less than 24 hours after Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov confirmed that a “humanitarian pause” in air strikes on Syria’s Aleppo was not being considered, Russia’s Defense Ministry announced on Tuesday that Moscow and Damascus would extend a moratorium on Russian and Syrian flights over the northern city and its countryside.
The latest statements reveal a Russian contradiction in dealing with the Aleppo file, particularly in light of the ongoing fierce battles between opposition fighters and regime forces and their allies on several fronts in the city.
“The contradiction in the Russian positions is evidence that there is no clear plan on how to deal with the Syrian file, specifically the situation in the city of Aleppo,” said Radwan Ziadeh, executive director of Syrian Center for Political and Strategic Studies.
Ziadeh told Ahsarq Al-Awsat that the decision to extend ceasing the Russian and Syrian fights over Aleppo could be linked to compliance with the international pressure exerted by Europe and the U.S., which have accused Moscow of committing war crimes in Syria.
Lieutenant General Sergei Rudskoi of the military’s General Staff said Tuesday that Russian and Syrian warplanes have stayed 10 kilometers away from Aleppo for a week. He said: “The moratorium on Russian and Syrian air strikes on the city will be extended.”
Russia expressed its readiness to announce a new humanitarian pause, only if it receives confirmed information that all necessary measures were taken to evacuate the injured and civilians.
On Tuesday, Stephen O’Brien, the U.N.’s humanitarian aid coordinator said: “The evacuations were obstructed by various factors, including delays in receiving the necessary approvals from local authorities in eastern Aleppo.”
O’Brien added: “I am deeply frustrated and saddened that the UN and its humanitarian partners have been forced to abort current plans to evacuate critically injured and sick people from eastern Aleppo city.”
In Syria, opposition factions in the Aleppo city have blamed Russia and the Syrian regime for blocking the initiative of U.N. Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura.
Several opposition factions said in a joint statement issued on Tuesday: “We have been in direct contact with the U.N. for more than a week to execute the initiative of de Mistura’s plan.” However, they said, “Russia and the Syrian regime are responsible for blocking the initiative because they refused to allow aid into besieged Aleppo or to offer guarantees to those injured.”
Russia confirmed on Tuesday that Russian and Syrian warplanes had not launched any airstrike on Aleppo in the past seven days.
Defense ministry spokesman Major-General Igor Konashenkov said Russian and Syrian planes had not even approached, let alone bombed, the devastated city since last Tuesday when Russia suspended air strikes ahead of a pause in hostilities.
The spokesman added that civilians could use six humanitarian corridors to leave the city.
Konashenkov said that late on Monday, around 50 women and children accompanied by officers of the Russian reconciliation center and Syrian authorities left eastern Aleppo through a humanitarian corridor.
However, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said airstrikes resumed since fighting ended on Saturday, focusing on major front lines, including in the city’s southwest.
Ibrahim Abu al-Laith, a civil defense official in eastern Aleppo, also said air strikes and shelling had hit the rebel-held half of the city near front lines in the past week.
SOHR director Rami Abdelrahman told Asharq Al-Awsat: “Russian warplanes were present in the skies of Aleppo in the past few days but did not cause the killing of any civilian.”