BEIRUT -- A humanitarian pause announced by Russia for thetook effect Thursday and was extended for an extra day as the Syrian military called on residents to evacuate and for gunmen to lay down their weapons and leave the city, too.
A leading U.N. humanitarian aid official for Syria said the United Nations hoped to begin medical evacuations from rebel-held eastern Aleppo during the “pause” in fighting on Friday.
Jan Egeland said the U.N. had received the “green lights” it needs from Syria’s government, armed opposition groups and Russia, which announced the pause in fighting that began on Thursday.
Russia confirmed Thursday that the halt in its joint offensive on eastern Aleppo with the Syrian government would be stretched through an additional day.
Speaking over the phone in Geneva, Egeland noted that the U.N. had already received assurances a day earlier from Moscow that the daily pauses would be extended from eight hours to 11 hours per day.
“We have gotten it extended in both hours and in terms of days,” he said, adding that the U.N. would “have a window from Friday at least until Monday” to evacuate sick and wounded from the city.
Egeland said the U.N. hoped to organize evacuations of “several hundred” critically wounded or sick people with their families either to government-controlled western Aleppo or to the rebel-held city of Idlib to the southwest, and deliver medical supplies to eastern Aleppo.
But there was no immediate sign of residents leaving the bombed out districts on Thursday.
The Syrian military used loudspeakers to urge residents to evacuate and for rebel fighters to lay down their weapons.
The overtures included Syrian aircraft dropping boxes containing soap and disposable razors, ostensibly to give militants with the beards mandatory under ISIS and other Islamic extremist groups a way to shave, clean up and make for the border amid the anticipated exodus.
Activists in rebel-held parts of Aleppo posted photos of the boxes’ contents, which included notes promising rebels safe passage into other areas if they laid down their weapons.
Al-Mayadeen TV, a Beirut-based pro-Syrian channel, broadcast Thursday an hour after the pause began from near one of the designated passages. Loudspeakers blared military calls for residents to let the sick and wounded out first, and urging fighters to lay down their guns. The message: “The battle for returning Aleppo to the nation’s fold is in its last phases. There is no point in continuing the fight.”
Gunfire was heard in the background, and soldiers were seen ducking from bullets before buses, parked on the government-side of Aleppo city, started their engines and left.
Moscow said the pause is to allow civilians and militants safe passage out of the eastern districts of the city -- which have been subjected to a tight siege since July and a punishing bombing campaign since mid-September.