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Russia, Assad 'halt air strikes on Aleppo' ahead of short ceasefire

Russia's defence minister said the brief pause in bombing would allow civilians to be evacuated from the battered Syrian city
A member of the Syrian Civil Defence stands amid the rubble of a destroyed building during a rescue operation following reported air strikes in the rebel-held Qatarji neighbourhood of Aleppo (AFP)
The Russian and Syrian air forces have stopped bombing Aleppo as of 0700 GMT on Tuesday, Russia's defence minister said, in a move he said was meant to pave the way for an eight-hour truce on 20 October.
"Strikes in the Aleppo region by the Russian and Syrian air forces are stopping today starting at 10:00 am (local time)," Sergei Shoigu said in a televised briefing.
"The early cessation of air strikes is necessary to introduce a 'humanitarian pause' on October 20. This guarantees the security of civilians' exit through six corridors and prepares the evacuation of the sick and injured from eastern Aleppo." 
Russia's defence ministry said on Monday that its forces and the Syrian government would halt fire in Aleppo on Thursday for eight hours amid mounting criticism of the Moscow-backed assault against Syria's second city. 
Shoigu on Tuesday called on countries that "have influence on armed groups in eastern Aleppo" to convince group leaders to cease hostilities and leave the city. 
Shoigu said the initiative could "contribute to the success" of international military talks in Geneva on Wednesday on efforts to distance Syrian opposition fighters from militant group Fateh al-Sham Front, which changed its name from Al-Nusra Front after renouncing its ties to Al-Qaeda.
Russia's ambassador to the UN, Vitaly Churkin, said Monday that Turkey, Qatar and Saudi Arabia have agreed to take part in talks on distancing rebels from the group.
Russia has repeatedly demanded that the Syrian rebels break off from Fateh al-Sham Front, which the United Nations considers a terrorist group, as a condition to revive a ceasefire in Aleppo.
The brutal government offensive against rebel-held eastern Aleppo backed by Russian airpower has plunged Syria into some of the worst violence since the conflict erupted in March 2011. 
The West has accused Moscow and Damascus of committing potential war crimes in their offensive on the city. Russia and the Syrian government blame rebels and the US for the ceasefire collapse. 
Before the announcement was made Russian jets pounded the battered city of Aleppo, according to the Britain-based monitor the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
"Russian airplanes carried out intensive air strikes after midnight, targeting many districts of east Aleppo," the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said. 
The monitor had no immediate word on casualties.
Syrian government aircraft have also carried out intensive air strikes on rebel areas since Damascus launched an offensive to recapture the whole city on 22 September.
Rebels have also been firing mortars into government-held West Aleppo, causing significant casualties since the collapse of the ceasefire on 19 September.
The former commercial and industrial hub has been divided by a front line slicing through its historic heart since rebels seized eastern districts in summer 2012.
One of Tuesday's pre-dawn strikes flattened an apartment block in the rebel-held Bustan al-Qasr district, an AFP correspondent reported.
The United Nations welcomed the pause but said it was not long enough to allow aid deliveries or the evacuation of those civilians who wished to leave.
This article is available in French on Middle East Eye French edition.

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