Aleppo Residents Trapped But Fighting Mostly Paused

A rebel fighter rests inside a damaged room in Marea city, northern Aleppo province, Syria October 21. Khalil Ashawi/Reuters

Calm prevailed across the divided Syrian city of Aleppo on Saturday, the third day of a unilateral ceasefire announced by Russia, but medical evacuations and aid deliveries have yet to take place, a war monitor said.

No Syrian or Russian air strikes on the eastern rebel-held side of Aleppo, Syria's most populous city before the war, have been reported since Russia began the pause in hostilities on Thursday, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

But 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 Syrian army and Russia have called on residents and rebels in besieged eastern Aleppo to leave the city through designated corridors and depart for other insurgent-held districts under a promise of safe travel, but very few rebels or civilians appear to have left.

"Nobody has left through the corridors. The small number of people which who tried to leave were faced with shelling around the (corridor area) and could not leave," said Zakaria Malahifji, a rebel official with the Fastaqim group, which is present in the city. Malahifji said shelling and clashes continued at normal levels in parts of the city.

Syrian state media says rebels are preventing civilians from leaving east Aleppo. Pro-government channels broadcast footage of ambulances and green busses parked at empty reception points in government Aleppo, said to be waiting for civilians and fighters from the city's east.

The United Nations had hoped that the ceasefires would allow medical evacuations from the city, but said a lack of security guarantees and facilitation were preventing aid workers taking advantage of the pause in bombing.

Sporadic clashes between insurgents and Syrian government and allied forces have been reported during the period of calm along frontlines, with some shells falling on both the government-held western side of the city and the rebel-held east, the Observatory said.

Aleppo has been a major battleground in the Syrian conflict, now in its sixth year. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, backed by the Russian military, Iran's Revolutionary Guards and an array of Shi'ite Muslim militias, wants to take full control of the city.

Syrian and Russian forces say they are targeting fighters linked to al-Qaeda from Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, formerly known as the Nusra Front, in eastern Aleppo. Insurgents say Syria and Russia are indiscriminately targeting civilians and civilian infrastructure to take over rebel-held eastern Aleppo.

Diplomatic negotiations between Russia and the United States have in recent weeks focused on whether there is a way to separate al-Qaeda-linked fighters in eastern Aleppo from more moderate rebels, thereby depriving Syrian and Russian forces of their main targets.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Saturday Russia remains committed to removing what is calls terrorist organizations from Syria and preventing the disintegration of the country.

"A temporary base is not a goal, it's a means to achieve the goal that was declared by the president—to help legitimate Syrian authorities in their fight with ISIS and other terrorist organizations. The Syrian territory must be liberated," Peskov said in an television interview.

"We need to liberate and do everything possible to prevent the division of the country," he said, adding that he did not see an end to the Syria conflict in the foreseeable future.

Russia has been announcing daily that it will abide by the next day of the ceasefire.

When asked if further extensions of the Aleppo pause after the initial four days was under discussion, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov was quoted by RIA news agency quoted as saying it depends on the actions of other parties.

"We'll see how today goes. At the highest level it's already been said that (extending the pause) depends not on our possibilities but it largely depends on whether there is a proper movement from the opposite direction," he said.