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Pause on Aleppo air strikes to continue into ninth day, says Russia

Russia says its planes have not approached Aleppo since last Tuesday, though activists say areas close to front lines have been bombed
An empty shop in eastern Aleppo, which is under siege by government forces (Reuters)

Russia said on Tuesday it will extend its pause in air strikes on Syria's Aleppo into a ninth day, despite reports of ceasefire violations by both sides on the ground.

Defence 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.

That moratorium on air strikes is being extended, Sergei Rudskoi, a defence ministry official, said separately on Tuesday, without specifying how long for.

Rudskoi said that means Russian and Syrian planes will continue to stay out of a 10 km zone around Aleppo.

But the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said air strikes had resumed since the lull in fighting ended on Saturday, focusing on major front lines, including in the city's southwest. There had been no civilian deaths from air strikes inside eastern Aleppo, however, the monitor said.

Ibrahim Abu al-Laith, a civil defence 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.

"There was artillery shelling ...and there were planes, the city was hit by several strikes," he said.

On Tuesday, districts outside the city to the west were hit by air strikes, the Observatory said. Air strikes had continued outside Aleppo during the ceasefire.

Russia has been the Syrian government's most powerful ally against rebels in a civil war now well into its sixth year.

Aleppo Media Centre also reported that a number of government soldiers had been killed on Tuesday, and others taken hostage, although state media made no mention of ground attacks on their forces.

Russia had said it would end the ceasefire if rebels used it to regroup or launch new attacks.

Divided city

Aleppo, Syria's most populous city before the war erupted, is now divided into government- and rebel-held areas. Intense bombardment by Syrian and Russian warplanes has reduced the rebel-controlled east to ruins.

Russia has accused rebels of thwarting its efforts to evacuate civilians, saying they open fire on those wanting to leave, but rebel groups say Syrian government forces and allies have been shelling and sniping around the corridors.

Rebels did not accept the ceasefire, which they said did nothing to alleviate the situation of those who chose to remain in eastern Aleppo, and was part of a government policy to purge cities of political opponents.

Rudskoi said around 50 women and children had managed to leave Aleppo late on Monday despite the dangers and were escorted by Russian military officers.

He said Russia was ready to help broker further ceasefires to allow wounded civilians to be evacuated.

Some Western countries have repeatedly accused Russia of killing civilians during its air campaign in Aleppo. Moscow denies this, saying it targets rebel groups inside the city.

On Tuesday, it said allegations by rebels and rescuers that it had bombed the Sakhour hospital in eastern Aleppo earlier this month were false, and urged the world to focus instead on what it said was the killing of civilians in neighbouring Iraq in air strikes carried out by the US-led coalition.

This article is available in French on Middle East Eye French edition.

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