Aleppo evacuation routes deserted as ceasefire ends



ALEPPO, SYRIA, Karam al-Masri- A unilateral Russian-declared ceasefire for Syria's Aleppo ended on Friday evening, marred by rebel fire on evacuation routes and with no sign any civilians or rebels left besieged neighbourhoods.
The 10-hour "humanitarian pause" was announced by Damascus ally Russia as an attempt to "prevent senseless casualties".



But the ceasefire for the city's rebel-held east came to an end at 7:00 pm local time (1700 GMT) without anyone using the eight evacuation passages.
"We did not record a single civilian or fighter leaving the eastern districts," said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, adding that battlefronts across the city were quiet.
AFP correspondents on both sides of the Bustan al-Qasr crossing said no one was seen using the evacuation corridor.
A similar three-day pause last month ended with only a handful of residents quitting the besieged east, home to more than 250,000 people.
Once Syria's economic powerhouse, Aleppo has been devastated by fighting since the rebels seized the east of the city in 2012, turning its historic heart into a battlefield.
Rebels and allied jihadists launched a bid to break the government's three-month siege a week ago, stepping up their attacks on Thursday hours before the ceasefire came into force.
Rebel rocket fire on Friday hit the Castello road, which leads north out of opposition-controlled territory in eastern Aleppo, state media and the Observatory said.
- 'Worthless' ceasefire -
Rocket fire lightly wounded two Russian servicemen monitoring the ceasefire, the Russian defence ministry said.
Syrian state media said a Syrian reporter was also wounded.
The attack forced Moscow to temporarily cut a live video feed of the area, which had shown barrels painted with the Syrian flag next to a large photograph of President Bashar al-Assad propped up by sandbags.
Another featured waiting ambulances while the third -- which appeared to be filmed from a drone -- showed a line of green coaches.
Civilians in east Aleppo, who have faced weeks of devastating bombardment by the government and Russia, have expressed scepticism about safe passage offers.
The rebels dismissed the latest ceasefire as a ploy by Moscow to deflect international criticism over the high civilian death toll from its bombing campaign.
"This announcement is worthless... We don't trust the Russians or any of their cheap initiatives," said Yasser al-Youssef, a politburo member of the Nureddin al-Zinki rebel brigade in Aleppo.
Rebels have so far captured the Dahiyet al-Assad neighbourhood and the village of Minyan west of Aleppo.
But they have come under criticism for shelling western government-held districts.
Rocket fire on the southern regime-held district of Ramussa on Friday killed two people and wounded seven, state media said.
Nearly 70 civilians have been killed in rebel fire into government-held areas during the offensive, according to the Britain-based Observatory.
- 'Body bags to keep warm' -
The situation for civilians in Aleppo is growing increasingly dire, with the United Nations warning that "food supplies in eastern Aleppo city will run out in mid-November".
In a report distributed on Friday, the UN's humanitarian coordination agency said there were so few supplies in east Aleppo's hospitals that "patients are using body bags to keep warm".
Medical facilities in east Aleppo are under severe strain, with many rendered out of service by repeated bombardment and others suffering shortages of equipment.
UN agencies tried but failed to organise convoys for severely ill or wounded residents of Aleppo during last month's pause, and did not attempt evacuations during Friday's ceasefire.
"The UN will not be involved in any way in the evacuation of civilians from east Aleppo related to this announcement," said David Swanson, a spokesman for the UN humanitarian office.
"Medical evacuations can only take place if parties to the conflict take all the necessary measures to provide an enabling environment, which hasn't happened," he told AFP.
"We remain very, very concerned about the humanitarian situation in east Aleppo. There have been no humanitarian supplies reaching the east of the city since early July."
Rights group Amnesty International also criticised the limited ceasefire, saying it was "no substitute for unfettered and impartial humanitarian access and ensuring protection of civilians".
Hundreds of people have been killed in the rebel-held sector since the army began an offensive to recapture it in September.
The death toll has drawn international condemnation of both Damascus and Moscow. The European Union said Russian actions "may amount to war crimes".
More than 300,000 people have been killed in Syria since the conflict erupted with anti-government protests in March 2011.
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Saturday, November 5th 2016
Karam al-Masri
           


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