Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has said the Syrian army has stopped its attacks on eastern Aleppo to allow for citizen evacuations. The US has responded cautiously to the statements.
Forces aligned with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad halted active military operations in rebel-held eastern Aleppo, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said on Thursday.
"Combat operations by the Syrian army in east Aleppo have been suspended because the largest operation of evacuation of civilians from east Aleppo is being carried out," Lavrov said as quoted by Russian news agency Sputnik.
He added that around 8,000 civilians were leaving the besieged part of the city through a designated withdrawal route spreading across 5 kilometers (over 3 miles).
The US responded cautiously to the statements, saying it remains to be seen whether or not Russia follows through on helping stop the military operations.
"Our approach from the beginning has been to listen carefully to what the Russians say but scrutinize their actions," White House spokesman Josh Earnest said at a news briefing.
"So obviously that statement is an indication that something positive could happen, but we're going to have to wait and see whether those statements are reflected on the ground."
Russia has maintained for weeks that its forces have not been involved in military operations over Aleppo.
Rebel withdrawal talks
Lavrov also said on Thursday that Russian and US military experts and diplomats agreed to meet in Geneva on Saturday to discuss the situation in Aleppo.
He announced the talks after speaking with US Secretary of State John Kerry at the annual Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) foreign ministers meeting in Hamburg, Germany.
The two sides are set to work on a document outlining the details of the withdrawal of Syrian rebels from Aleppo's eastern neighborhoods as well as the civilians who also wish to leave the city.
Hundreds in need of evacuation
Aid workers evacuated scores of patients trapped in Aleppo's Old City after the Syrian army retook the area. The 148 civilians were disabled or in need of urgent mental care, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said on Thursday. The patients had been "forgotten" and spent days in a building that once served as a home for the elderly.
Tawfik Chamaa, a representative of the Union of Syrian Medical Relief Organizations (UOSSM), warned that up to 1,500 people are in need of a medical evacuation. Chamaa added that any evacuation should have international observers to prevent the patients from being "executed or diverted on the way to the hospital.
Opposition forces are on the verge of losing control of their last strongholds due to quick advances made by Syrian government forces and its allied militias. Rebels in eastern Aleppo are currently confined to an area estimated to be just 20 percent of the original territory they held.
The three-week offensive in Syria's second city has claimed almost 500 civilian lives as the two sides traded artillery fire and Russian and Syrian air forces carried out strikes on remaining rebel positions.
On Wednesday, six western countries including Germany and the United States called for an immediate ceasefire in the face of the humanitarian catastrophe in Aleppo.
rs/se (AP, AFP, dpa, Reuters)