BEIRUT (Reuters) - Syria’s army and Russia’s air force halted their bombardment of rebel-held eastern Aleppo on Friday, a monitoring group said, on the second of four consecutive daytime unilateral ceasefires in the city that have been rejected by insurgents.
Heavy clashes took place in Aleppo during the night, outside the 11-hour periods during which the ceasefire is in place, Zakaria Malahifji, a rebel official with the Fastaqim group which is present in the city, said. He added that the bombardment overnight was lighter than it had been recently.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said there had been clashes overnight along frontline neighborhoods of rebel-held east Aleppo: in Jab al-Jalabi in the Old City, in al-Ithaa and in Salah al-Din. There were also clashes in Jamiat al-Zahraa in the government-held west of the city, the Observatory said.
Syria’s army and Russia have called on residents and rebels in besieged eastern Aleppo to quit the city and depart for other insurgent-held districts under a promise of safe travel.
The U.N. 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.
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.
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has used siege and bombardment to force rebels from areas they control around Syria’s main cities, letting them leave with their families and light weapons and surrendering territory to the government.
Assad has said that local agreements of that kind are preferable to continued fighting.
On Wednesday hundreds of insurgents and their families left the besieged Syrian town of Mouadamiya near Damascus for Idlib province, the largest area under control of the myriad insurgent groups seeking to oust Assad.
In the last two months, while attention has focused on the battle for Aleppo further north, rebels pulled out of Daraya, west of Damascus, and the two suburbs of Qudsiya and al-Hama to the north. It allowed Assad to consolidate control around the capital which his opponents came close to encircling at one stage in the five-year conflict.
A number of rebels were also evacuated from their last foothold in the city of Homs in September.
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.
Reporting By Angus McDowall and Lisa Barrington; editing by Ralph Boulton