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Humanitarian crisis in Syria's Aleppo

July 28, 2016

Russia and Syria have offered to open a "humanitarian corridor" after rebels and civilians were surrounded. A full assault to retake eastern Aleppo could trigger a humanitatrian crisis.

Syrien Zerstörung in der Altstadt von Aleppo
Image: Reuters/A. Ismail

Russia and Syria said on Thursday they would open humanitarian corridors in the besieged city of Aleppo, days after government and allied forces cut off the only road leading into the rebel-held eastern portion of the city.

The announcement came as Syrian President Bashar al-Assad offered an amnesty to rebel fighters who handed over their weapons and surrendered over the next three months.

"If they want to return to normal life and lay down arms they will get amnesty," Syrian state media SANA reported Assad as saying. He called it "a good option to help those people who took up arms for different reasons to return to normal life."

Over the past several days Assad's forces have been sending text messages and dropping leaflets in eastern Aleppo urging rebels to surrender and citizens to cooperate. It is not the first time Assad has offered an amnesty, largely viewed as a form of propaganda and psychological warfare.

Syrien Aleppo Rebellen
Syrian rebels have been in control of eastern Aleppo for most of the conflict.Image: picture-alliance/ZUMAPRESS

Thousands of captured rebels and Assad opponents are suspected to have been killed and tortured during the course of the brutal six year civil war.

After weeks of heavy fighting with rebels the Syrian Army said on Wednesday it had taken over the strategic Castillo road used to bring weapons and supplies to rebels into eastern Aleppo.

It is a major blow to rebels, who are now effectively surrounded and isolated by Assad allied forces and under a heavy barrage of Russian and Syrian airpower. An expected siege has prompted international concern of an impending humanitarian disaster in the city, the country's most populous before the war where tens of thousands of civilians still live.

In Moscow, Russia's defense minister, Sergei Shoigu, said a "large-scale humanitarian operation" would be launched in Aleppo.

"Together with the Syrian government we will open three humanitarian corridors in order to help civilians who were kept hostage by the terrorists as well as the fighters who want to lay down their arms," he told a meeting in Moscow, adding that he hoped international aid organizations would help. Russia and Syrian refer to most rebel groups as "terrorists."

The Syrian regime has frequently used seige tactics to starve rebels and civilians into submission, drawing international criticism and calls for humanitarian access.

On Thursday, the Britain and France called on the Syrian regime and allied forces to end the siege of Aleppo. French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault and his British counterpart Boris Johnson warned that "the bombardment of civilians and medical facilities are already disasterous and could generate further refugees."

Samantha Power, the United States Ambassador to the UN, called the joint Russian-Syrian plan "chilling" and criticized indiscriminate bombing and starvation of civilians.

The Russian and Syrian air forces have extensively used banned cluster munitions since the end of May, especially around Aleppo, killing and injuring dozens of civilians, Human Rights Watch said Thursday.

The United States and Russia are trying to re-start peace talks that failed in April in a bid to quell a conflict that has killed more than 250,000 people and displaced millions.

cw/kms (AFP, AP, dpa, Reuters)