Truce extended in Aleppo but UN delays evacuations
ALEPPO, Syria – Security concerns forced the United Nations to delay planned evacuations from Syria's Aleppo, it said, as Russia extended a truce that was largely holding into a 3rd day Saturday, October 22.
Moscow said it was extending the unilateral "humanitarian pause" in the Syrian government's Russian-backed assault on opposition-held east Aleppo until 1600 GMT.
But there was no sign that civilians or rebels were heeding calls to leave, with Damascus and Moscow accusing opposition fighters of preventing evacuations.
In Geneva, the UN rights council called for a special investigation into the violence in Aleppo in a resolution fiercely critical of Syria's government.
East Aleppo, which the rebels captured in 2012, has been under siege by the army since mid-July and has faced devastating bombardment by the government and its ally Russia since the September 22 launch of an offensive to retake the whole city.
Nearly 500 people have been killed, more than a quarter of them children, since the assault began. More than 2,000 civilians have been wounded.
The scale of the casualties has prompted outrage in the West, with Washington saying the bombardment amounted to a possible war crime.
Russia announced a halt to its air strikes from Tuesday, October 18, and the unilateral ceasefire from Thursday, October 20.
The Syrian army says it has opened 8 corridors across the front line for the more than 250,000 civilians in rebel-held areas to leave, but so far almost none have taken up the offer.
"There has been no movement in the corridors in the eastern district. For the moment, we haven't seen any movement of residents or fighters," said Rami Abdel Rahman, head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group.
'Threats preventing evacuations'
Syrian state media accused rebels of preventing people from leaving the city's opposition-held sector.
And Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said fighters were using "threats, blackmail, and brute force" to prevent civilians and rebels evacuating.
The UN had hoped to use the truce to evacuate injured people from Aleppo, and possibly deliver aid.
But on Friday afternoon, October 21, a spokesman said the operation had been delayed because of security concerns.
"Medical evacuations of sick and injured could unfortunately not begin this morning as planned because the necessary conditions were not in place," said Jens Laerke of the United Nations humanitarian office OCHA.
David Swanson, an OCHA spokesman in Turkey's Gaziantep, said a 4-day plan had been drawn up to begin with two days of evacuations to west Aleppo, rebel-held Idlib or Turkey.
If successful, the plan would then see aid delivered for another two days alongside continuing evacuations.
No aid has entered Aleppo since July 7 and food rations will run out by the end of October, UN chief Ban Ki-moon warned on Thursday.
The Syrian opposition National Coalition and rebel Free Syrian Army criticized UN policy in a statement, saying it "plays into the Assad regime's plans to empty Aleppo."
It accused the world body of becoming a "tool in the hands of Russia."
UN calls for probe
Moscow and Damascus have called on civilians to leave so that their offensive can focus on former Al-Qaeda affiliate the Fateh al-Sham Front and the recapture of east Aleppo.
On Friday afternoon rebel fire into west Aleppo killed one person and wounded three, Syrian state media said.
Moscow has shown no sign of winding down its intervention, despite criticism of the civilian death toll and allegations that hospitals have been hit, and a Russian aircraft carrier battle group was on Friday passing through the English Channel en route to the eastern Mediterranean.
The UN human rights council called in a resolution for "a comprehensive, independent special inquiry into the events in Aleppo," and for those responsible for the most serious violations to be identified.
The resolution demanded that warring parties "in particular the Syrian authorities and their allies," allow unrestricted humanitarian access to desperate civilians and "end immediately all bombardments and military flights over Aleppo city."
Also Friday, the UN announced it would establish an "internal and independent" inquiry into an attack last month on a humanitarian convoy in Syria that killed at least 18.
Washington expressed outrage over the attack and attributed it to Russia, which denied responsibility.
A further report to the UN Security Council on Friday found that the Syrian army used chemical weapons to attack the village of Qmenas in March 2015.
Of the 9 total alleged chemical attacks under ongoing probe by the UN-led joint investigative mechanism, 3 have been attributed to the Syrian government and one to the Islamic State group. – Rappler.com