22 Oct 2016

Too risky to flee Aleppo despite ceasefire

11:13 am on 22 October 2016

Medical evacuations from Aleppo are unlikely despite a 24-hour extension of the humanitarian truce, the United Nations says.

Smoke from reported opposition fire rises in a designated humanitarian corridor in eastern Aleppo.

Smoke from reported opposition fire rises in a designated humanitarian corridor in eastern Aleppo. Photo: AFP

The Russian Defence Ministry says a temporary humanitarian truce in the northern Syrian city of Aleppo has been extended for another 24 hours.

Meanwhile, at an emergency session in Geneva, the United Nations Human Rights Council approved a resolution aimed at ending the bombing of Aleppo and launching an independent inquiry into the events in the war ravaged city.

Human Rights Commissioner Zeid Raad Al Hussein described the city as a slaughterhouse in which crimes of historic proportions were being committed.

"I urge members of the Human Rights Council to cast aside political disagreements and focus esclusively on the women, men and children whose suffering cries out for help.

"No hypothetical advantage in global gamesmanship could possibly outweight this pain and horror."

Meanwhile Russia described supporters of the resolution as friends of terrorists and extremists.

Almost 500 people have been killed and 2000 injured since government forces, backed by Russian air strikes, launched an assault on the east a month ago.

The UN Human Rights Council cannot enforce an end to the bombing, but it will set up an inquiry into possible war crimes in Aleppo.

Aid workers were hoping to take advantage of an 11-hour "humanitarian pause" declared by Syria and Russia.

But despite the ceasefire, aid agencies said they could not evacuate seriously wounded people from eastern Aleppo without guarantees of security from all sides.

Russia said it would also suspend air strikes for an hour on Saturday to allow civilians and rebels to leave the city through safe corridors.

However, very few people have left, with rebel factions saying it would amount to forced displacement and surrender.

Aleppo, which was once Syria's largest city and the country's commercial and industrial hub, has been devastated by fighting since 2012.

It has been divided roughly in two, with President Bashar al-Assad's forces controlling the west and rebels the east.

At the start of September, troops and Iranian-backed fighters severed the rebels' last route into the east and put the city's 275,000 residents under siege.

The charity Save the Children has warned that aid and medical workers in eastern Aleppo are reporting the widespread use of cluster bombs, which are banned under international law.

British Navy frigate HMS Richmond (L)  and destroyer HMS Duncan (R) escort the Russian Task Group, including aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov (background L) as it transits to the Mediterranean Sea.

British Navy frigate HMS Richmond (L) and destroyer HMS Duncan (R) escort the Russian Task Group (background L) as it transits to the Mediterranean Sea. Photo: AFP PHOTO / CROWN COPYRIGHT 2016 / GUY POOL

Russian warships head to Mediterranean

A flotilla of Russian warships has been shadowed through the English Channel by two British naval ships.

The aircraft carrier, Admiral Kuznetsov, and other Russian naval ships are believed to be heading to the eastern Mediterranean.

The ships are within international waters but Britain's Ministry of Defence said they were being "man-marked every step of the way" while near British waters.

The Admiral Kuznetsov can carry more than 50 aircraft.

Russia said the flotilla would strengthen its current naval presence off the Syrian coast and the aircraft carrier planes and on-board weapons could also be used for strikes against terrorists.

Meanwhile, European leaders have been speaking out strongly on Syrian and Russian attacks on rebel held parts of the city of Aleppo.

The German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, has demanded an end to the attacks, saying the European Union will take measures against both if the "barbaric" campaign continues.

She said sanctions would be imposed on Syria and its allies, including Russia.

The British Prime Minister, Theresa May, has called on the European Union to consider all options to put pressure on Russia and the Syrian President, Bashar al-Assad, to stop attacks on Aleppo.

Both she and French leader Francois Hollande say the EU must give a clear statement that if the atrocities continue, then all options will be considered.

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