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Russia announces new temporary 'humanitarian pause' in Aleppo

Russia has ordered a new 10-hour truce for Friday in the besieged Syrian city of Aleppo. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has also said he expects to remain in power until 2021, despite the ongoing war.

The Russian Defense Ministry announced on Wednesday that it will extend a suspension of its airstrikes on Aleppo after Russian President Vladimir Putin called for a ceasefire.

"A decision was made to introduce a 'humanitarian pause' in Aleppo on November 4 from 9:00 a.m. (0600 UTC) to 19:00 (1600 UCT)," the chief of Russia's General Staff Valery Gerasimov said in a statement.

The truce has been approved by Syrian government authorities, said Gerasimov, adding that the pause is intended to "prevent senseless casualties" by allowing civilians and rebels leave the opposition-held eastern part of Aleppo. 

He said a total of eight corridors - six for civilians and two for fighters - could be used to leave the city on Friday.

On Tuesday, a Kremlin spokesman said the temporary halt in Russian airstrikes was still in effect but could not be extended if the rebels did not stop their attacks. Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu also said on Tuesday he was not expecting a resumption of Syrian peace talks in the foreseeable future because of the "impossibility" of negotiating with opposition forces.

However, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Wednesday that Russia hopes there will eventually be "honest cooperation" in reaching a political solution to the Syrian war. 

"We hope our partners will draw [the] necessary conclusions [so that] we will all aim for honest cooperation... for a political process involving both the government and opposition forces," Lavrov said.

Rebel forces launched a major assault on Friday to break the Russia-backed siege of Aleppo but were met with fierce resistance from Syrian government forces.

'I'm just a headline'

Despite a raging war in his country, Assad intends to remain in power until 2021, he told Western journalists in Damascus.

In an interview published on Tuesday by "The New York Times," Assad ruled out any political changes until there was a military conclusion to the conflict. He added that he would remain in office until the end of his third seven-year term.

The Syrian president, who reportedly "radiated confidence and friendliness," said the United States was driving the conflict and accused Washington of backing the militant "Islamic State" among other extremist groups.

"I'm just a headline - the bad president, the bad guy, who is killing the good guys," Assad said. "You know this narrative. The real reason is toppling the government. This government doesn't fit the criteria of the United States."

Despite his criticism, he said he was still open to dialogue with the United States and other nations, "but that doesn't mean to give up our sovereignty and transfer Syria into a puppet country."

War crimes accusations

Both Syrian government forces and opposition groups have been accused of committing war crimes in Aleppo by the United Nations. Western nations have levied such allegations against Moscow for backing an assault which has killed hundreds of civilians and destroyed hospitals.

Russia has been conducting a bombing campaign in Syria in support of Assad since September 2015.

Over 300,000 people have been killed since Syria's war evolved from a protest movement against Assad in March 2011 into a multi-front conflict among rebels, jihadis, Kurds and government forces.

rs/sms (AFP, dpa, Reuters)

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