Russia tells rebels to leave Syria's Aleppo by Friday evening

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia and the Syrian army on Wednesday told anti-government rebels in Aleppo to leave by Friday evening, signaling an extended moratorium on air strikes in the city.

Slideshow ( 2 images )

The Russian Defence Ministry, which is helping forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad to retake full control of Aleppo, said rebels would be allowed to exit the city unharmed and with their weapons between 0900 and 1900 local time on Nov. 4 via two special corridors.

Civilians and the sick and wounded would be allowed to leave via six other corridors, it said.

The Syrian army released a similar statement later in the day calling on rebel fighters to cease fire and to “use this opportunity” to leave the city with their small arms.

Rebels rejected the calls, an official in an Aleppo-based insurgent group said.

“This is completely out of the question. We will not give up the city of Aleppo to the Russians and we won’t surrender,” Zakaria Malahifji of the Fastaqim rebel group told Reuters.

He denied there were corridors guaranteeing safe passage and said civilians did not trust the government side.

President Vladimir Putin had ordered the pause in fighting “to avoid senseless victims”, Russia’s Defence Ministry said, adding that Syrian authorities would ensure its troops pulled back from the two corridors designated for rebels.

Russia and its Syrian allies say they halted air attacks on Aleppo on Oct 18. Western governments said the strikes had killed civilians in large numbers, an allegation Moscow denied.

Humanitarian pauses designed to allow both rebels and civilians to exit the city have been organized by Moscow and Damascus before, but have largely failed amid continued violence with both sides accusing the other of stopping people from leaving.

A Kremlin spokesman said on Tuesday the moratorium on air strikes was still in force, but could not be extended if rebels in the city did not halt their attacks.

The Russian Defence Ministry said on Wednesday that rebels inside Aleppo had taken heavy losses during fighting and were effectively trapped.

“All attempts by the rebels to break through in Aleppo have failed,” the ministry said. “The terrorists have suffered heavy losses in lives, weapons and equipment. They have no chance to break out of the city.”

Writing by Denis Pinchuk and Andrew Osborn; Additional reporting by John Davison in Beirut; Editing by Gareth Jones