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Russia to extend Aleppo ceasefire to 11 hours

A Russian general has said that Thursday's ceasefire to allow aid into Syria's Aleppo will run for 11 hours, not the eight initially planned. Moscow and Damascus say that their air forces have already halted operations.

The Russian Defense Ministry said on Wednesday that the ceasefire for the city of Aleppo would be extended from eight to 11 hours. According to General Sergey Rudskoi of the Russian General Staff, this was a response to "numerous requests" from aid organizations for more time. 

When Moscow first announced the cessation of fighting on Monday, the UN was among the organizations to complain that eight hours was too brief a window for relief workers.

This extension comes during a meeting between German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Russian President Vladimir Putin, French President Francois Hollande and Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko in Berlin - primarily to discuss the situation in Ukraine. This meeting, coupled with other potential signs of movement like the Aleppo ceasefire pledge, stoked some hopes of Russia seeking a more diplomatic approach to the conflicts in Ukraine and Syria. Still, expectations remained modest going into the meeting, with Merkel calling the situation in the most populous city in Syria "disastrous."

If upheld as advertised, the ceasefire will take place between 8 a.m. and 7 p.m. local time (0500-1600 UTC/GMT) on Thursday. This "will allow representatives of the United Nations and the Syrian Red Crescent to carry out all their operations to ensure the evacuation of the sick and wounded, and also to allow peaceful civilians out of the city," said Rudskoi.

Russia also said that Russian and Syrian air forces had stopped bombing Aleppo on Tuesday, ahead of the planned ceasefire: "Since 10 a.m. yesterday in the area of Aleppo air strikes by Russian and Syrian forces have completely ceased. Russian and Syrian planes are not getting closer than 10 kilometers to the city," said Rudskoi.

Once the planned pause in fighting begins on Thursday six corridors will open for civilians and two for rebels to leave the city, according to the general.

kbd/msh (AFP, dpa, Reuters)

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