Moscow extends Aleppo ceasefire
MOSCOW - Russia's defence ministry said Friday that Moscow would extend a "humanitarian pause" in Aleppo until 1600 GMT on Saturday to allow civilians and armed rebels to leave the city.
"At the request of representatives of the UN and other international organisations, a decision by the Russian president extends the humanitarian pause in the Aleppo region by another 24 hours," senior military official Sergei Rudskoi told reporters.
This announcement marks the second time Moscow has extended the truce by 24 hours after declaring an 11-hour truce on Thursday morning.
Moscow announced on Tuesday morning that Russian and Syrian air forces had stopped bombing Aleppo ahead of the pause in fighting and the halt held into a second day on Wednesday.
The Kremlin hailed the move as a "manifestation of goodwill" as it faced mounting criticism over its bombing of rebel-held eastern Aleppo in support of a brutal regime offensive on the city.
Rudskoi accused jihadist groups of "doing everything to prevent the exit of civilians and members of armed groups from eastern Aleppo."
"The terrorists are using the ceasefire in their interests," he said.
"We are seeing them massing around Aleppo and preparing for another breakthrough into the city's eastern neighbourhoods," he said, adding that there were over 1,200 people, including more than 30 suicide bombers, in their ranks.
Rudskoi added that on the first day of the humanitarian pause eight injured fighters from the influential Islamist Ahrar al-Sham group, as well as seven civilians left the city via humanitarian corridors.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov expressed concern Friday regarding the refusal of fighters from a former Al-Qaeda affiliate, the Fateh al-Sham Front, to leave the city.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Friday that whether Russia extends the pause in fighting further "depends on how the process of fighters leaving the city -- which so far is sluggish, unfortunately."
The UN said Friday that security concerns had forced it to delay planned evacuations from Aleppo, despite the truce that was largely holding for a second day in the ravaged city.
The West has accused Moscow of perpetrating potential war crimes in Aleppo through indiscriminate bombing to support Syrian government efforts to retake total control over the city.