Putin offers pause, exits for Aleppo

MOSCOW (AP) — The Russian president on Wednesday offered a new unilateral humanitarian pause for Syria’s war-ravaged Aleppo, urging rebels to use it to leave the city’s eastern, besieged districts.

The Syrian rebels quickly dismissed Vladimir Putin’s initiative.

Later in the day, at least eight civilians were killed in presumed government or Russian air strikes on the rebel-held town of Saraqib in Idlib province, a local search-and-rescue outfit reported.

Putin ordered his forces to open humanitarian corridors to eastern Aleppo this Friday, along with two routes for rebels to leave the city “in order to prevent a senseless loss of life,” the Defense Ministry announced Wednesday.

One exit leads to the Turkish border, the other to the city of Idlib, according to the ministry.

The U.N. and other relief organizations declined to use the corridors two weeks ago, when Russia first opened them, saying rebels and pro-government forces would not guarantee their safety.

Few rebels or civilians were seen leaving the city, either.

Chief of the Russian General Staff Gen. Valery Gerasimov said he was “calling on all leaders of armed groups directly to cease hostilities and leave Aleppo with their weapons.”

Gerasimov also said the rebel offensive on the Syrian government-held districts in western Aleppo, which was launched last week, has failed to break through the siege.

“They have no chance to break out of the city,” he added.

Rebel groups in Aleppo dismissed Russia’s latest offer, with one of the groups describing it as a media stunt for “public consumption.”

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

He added that the Russian leader’s comments do not reflect the reality on the ground.

“We need an international commission to check the Russian lies,” al-Youssef said.

Molhem Ekaidi, deputy commander of Fastaqim group, one of the major rebel factions fighting inside Aleppo, also accused the Russians of lying.

“The (Russian) shelling and crimes continue and their planes have not left the skies of Aleppo,” he said.

The two factions, Nour el-Din el-Zinki and Fastaqim, were later reported clashing among themselves inside the besieged city over detentions, according to activists briefed on the situation.