- Amnesty International: Corridors won’t prevent a humanitarian catastrophe
- Syria’s President announces an amnesty for militants who lay down their arms
In a “large-scale humanitarian operation,” three relief corridors would be set up to distribute food and medical aid to civilians, and provide them — along with rebels who chose to surrender — the opportunity to leave the city, Russia’s Ministry of Defense said.
Residents would be notified of the location of the routes by leaflets, loudspeakers and text messages, a ministry statement said.
A fourth corridor would be established in northern Aleppo to allow for the withdrawal of armed insurgents, the statement said, calling it an exceptional attempt to spare civilians from violence.
Aleppo Gov. Mohammad Olabi also announced the opening of three corridors for people to flee the besieged rebel-held neighborhoods in the city’s east, the state-run Syrian Arab News Agency reported — although it made no mention of a fourth corridor.
Syrian government to residents: Lay down your arms
The Syrian government has said it is winning control of more neighborhoods in the key northwestern city, and it’s called on all residents bearing weapons to surrender their arms.
Aleppo, Syria’s largest city before the war broke out in 2011, has been a major battleground in conflict, with rebel groups holding neighborhoods in the east of the city for years.
The United Nations has warned recently of a potential humanitarian disaster as government troops, backed by Russian air support, tightened their grip on the city, where it says an estimated 200,000 to 300,000 people remain.
Speaking to reporters Thursday, Russian Defense Minister Gen. Sergei Shoigu said that the joint relief operation was being carried out “to ensure the safety of the residents of Aleppo,” where “a complex humanitarian situation” had developed.
“We have repeatedly called on the warring parties to reconcile, but every time, the militants violated the cessation of hostilities, shelled villages, attacked the positions of government troops,” he said.
Syrian amnesty for rebels
News of the humanitarian operation came as Syrian President Bashar al-Assad announced a general amnesty for rebels who surrendered to government authorities within three months, SANA reported.
The amnesty would also apply to those who safely released people they had kidnapped during the five-year civil war. Assad has previously offered amnesty to rebels or deserters, and commuted sentences for various offenses.
Russia’s Defense Ministry said that in the last three days, representatives of 77 inhabited areas in Aleppo had signed truce agreements.
But fighting had continued in other parts of the city, with eight “terrorist attacks” on Syrian government positions in the past two weeks.
Rights group Amnesty International disputes that the corridors would prevent a humanitarian catastrophe in Aleppo, saying many civilians would likely be skeptical of the government’s assurances and might not leave out of fear for their safety.
Philip Luther, director of Amnesty’s Middle East and North Africa program, said the corridors were “not a substitute for allowing impartial humanitarian relief for civilians who remain in opposition-held areas of the city or other besieged areas, many of whom will be skeptical about government promises.”
Residents in the rebel-held neighborhoods in the city’s east told CNN on Wednesday they were hungry and faced serious food and water shortages.
They had received text messages from the regime telling them to leave. But they were fearful of government troops surrounding and killing them if they sought to flee, or starving if they stayed.
U.N. humanitarian chief Stephen O’Brien said last week that food supplies in eastern Aleppo were expected to run out in mid-August.
UNICEF issued a statement Tuesday saying four hospitals in eastern Aleppo and a blood blank had been struck in recent days, disrupting vital medical services.
Staffan de Mistura, the U.N. special envoy for Syria, said this week that he hoped to convene a third round of Syrian peace talks toward the end of August.
He said he hoped the situation in Aleppo and the war-torn capital, Damascus, would improve as negotiations to restart the talks progressed. Previous efforts at imposing a lasting ceasefire have faltered.
More than 280,000 Syrians have been killed since fighting began in 2011, with millions forced to flee the country.