A brief, unilateral ceasefire has finally been decided upon by Russia as a goodwill gesture. The lull in the fighting is intended to provide an opportunity for rebel fighters and civilians to escape the city of Aleppo, which has been under heavy siege by the Syrian and Russian military.
However, during the initial 11-hour time frame that the ceasefire was in effect, there were few who opted to leave the war-torn city. Those trapped inside the rebel-held eastern portion of Aleppo did not trust that Russia would keep them safe in their designated “humanitarian corridors,” after bombing them for months alongside the Syrian government.
— iOmar (@Omar_alhathloul) October 21, 2016
An anti-government activist, Bassem Ayoub, relayed a message about Russia’s tactics by way of the internet.
“All the human corridors that the regime is promoting, are all lies. What’s happening is an extermination of people.”
In interviews, many stated that they choose to stay so they can hold on to their homes and to continue to resist the government of President Bashar al-Assad. Others shared that they would consider leaving if they were not fearful of the dangers of the journey and the threats potentially awaiting them at their new destinations.
The shelling and the bombing by the Syrian military and the Russians have caused hundreds of deaths in the last few weeks alone. The situation has become much worse since the breakdown of the U.S.-Russian ceasefire in September.
The New York Times shared about the events which have led the people of Aleppo to stay as opposed to taking their chances during the ceasefire to leave.
“On Thursday, pro-government and rebel forces accused each other of preventing people from leaving Aleppo. The Syrian state news media said ‘terrorists’ had attacked one of the crossing points, or humanitarian corridors, designated by Russia. Rebels and civilian residents said clashes erupted there overnight after government forces tried to advance. Yet there was no way to know how many people would have attempted the crossing, even if it had been possible.”
Ayoub spoke of the fear civilians have about the choice to leave, stating that there are no guarantees and that everyone is afraid to be first to head for the designated exits. He mentioned that safe routes had been declared before, but when people attempted to use them, they came under fire.
United Nations officials said on Thursday afternoon that Russia had pledged to provide additional 11-hour periods over at least three more days to allow humanitarian agencies to assist. The United Nations, as well as other international agencies, has not yet resorted to insisting people leave their homes for their safety and for assistance as that would be in violation of international law. However, the UN stated that it might be the only way to save lives.
Syria says east Aleppo ceasefire has begun, promises ‘safe exit’ https://t.co/zqkjDdRDqN
— The Globe and Mail (@globeandmail) October 20, 2016
Within Aleppo, families have been weighing their options as the UN said that Russia had agreed that in the next few days, ceasefires would be met with the delivery of international aid, evacuation of the wounded, and additional assistance by the Red Crescent and United Nations agencies.
Special envoy Staffan de Mistura welcomed the ceasefire as a means to bring the medical relief needed to the people of Aleppo. He did, however, note that the Russian offer fell short of the hoped-for cessation of hostilities he had proposed in an “attempt to avert the destruction of rebel-held parts of the city.”
Initially, Russia had proposed that the ceasefire would last eight hours each day for four days starting on Thursday, but the Kremlin later agreed on extending it to 11 hours each day after the UN noted that eight hours was not long enough for assistance operations.
The Kremlin stated that both they and Damascus had agreed to open the window for one more day and to extend the time of each pause only if it were not used by rebel fighters to regroup and seek military advantage.
The Times noted, “Video posted online from both sides of the front showed the challenges that civilians are facing. From inside, the areas said to be safe routes appeared to be forbidding, deserted stretches of destroyed and abandoned buildings.”
[Featured Image by Chris McGrath/Getty Images]