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Syrian rebels reject Russia’s conflicting messages

Russia announced that it would declare a 10-hour “humanitarian pause” in Aleppo on Friday while simultaneously remarking that it would be postponing a political solution in Syria “indefinitely”. 

The initiative, announced by Russia’s Ministry of Defense on behalf of President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday, would create a 10-hour space of time for humanitarian aid to move in and out of the city

“A decision was made to introduce a ‘humanitarian pause’ in Aleppo on November 4 from 9:00 am to 19:00,” said the chief of Russia’s General Staff Valery Gerasimov in a statement. He said the decision was approved by Syrian authorities and was intended to “prevent senseless casualties” by allowing civilians and combatants to leave Aleppo.

The statement followed an announcement on Tuesday by Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu that Russia would cease its airstrikes on eastern Aleppo for 16 days. Russia has been heavily criticized by the international community, particularly Western governments, for its recent air-based assault on eastern Aleppo.

Riad Hijab, General Coordinator of the Syrian opposition’s High Negotiations Committee (HNC) criticized remarks made by Shoigu, who said on Tuesday that the resumption of peace talks in Syria had been indefinitely postponed.

During a meeting on Tuesday with Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu in Doha, the capital of Qatar, Hijab praised Turkey’s effort at preserving Syria’s unity and stressed the importance of supporting peace in Syria and the Syrian opposition because of its strategic importance in the fight against ISIS.cwqoschw8aab1sp

He urged the international community to condemn the Assad regime as well as Russia and Iran for supporting Assad.

Many have also accused Russia of war crimes for its use of incendiary weapons and its repeated bombing of schools and hospitals.

Shortly after, Yasser al-Youssef, a spokesman for Syrian rebel group Nour el-Din el-Zinki,  said Russia “is not serious” and that its latest humanitarian initiatives “don’t concern us”.

Since September, a renewed wave of aerial bombing has battered rebel-held eastern Aleppo, causing dire shortages of food, water, and medical supplies. Russia recently imposed another unilateral “pause” which it extended multiple times before ultimately letting it expire last week.

Virtually no civilians were able to leave Aleppo during the last pause in fighting (Assad forces and rebels offered conflicting reasons for why; Syrian state television claimed the rebels were using civilians as “human shields” and preventing them from leaving, while rebels claimed the regime blocked all eight corridors to exit the city).

Additionally, almost no humanitarian aid was able to pass through the city due to a lack of trust in the plan, which was imposed by Russia without international cooperation.

This time, Putin ordered that all aid corridors be opened on Friday, and that two new exit corridors be created for rebels to leave the city. Al-Youssef dismissed Putin’s statements and called for an “international commission to check the Russian lies”.

On Wednesday, German Chancellor Angel Merkel accused Syrian forces of committing “crimes against humanity” while receiving the Seoul Peace Prize in Berlin.

“The use of barrel bombes and incendiary bombs, and even chemical weapons, is not being shied away from”, said Merkel during the ceremony.

“The civilian population is being starved, medical institutes are being attacked, doctors are dying and hospitals are being destroyed”, she said.

“These are serious crimes against humanity. We mustn’t overlook that.”

She added that U.N. aid convoys were not safe from bombardment.

Last month, the U.N. Human Rights Council announced that it would identify the perpetrators of war crimes in Aleppo while launching a special inquiry into the use of starvation and deadly airstrikes by Russia.

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