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December, 5, 2016

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Russia, Syrian planes halt Aleppo airstrikes leading up to truce

MOSCOW--Russian and Syrian warplanes on Tuesday halted their airstrikes on Syria's besieged city of Aleppo in preparation for a temporary truce that Moscow has announced for later in the week, the Russian defense minister said.

According to Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, the halt in the strikes should help pave way for militants to leave the eastern rebel-held parts of the contested city.

Both Russian and Syrian air raids on Aleppo were suspended on 10 a.m. Tuesday, Shoigu said. He described the suspension as a precursor for the opening of humanitarian corridors.

Moscow on Monday announced a "humanitarian pause" between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. Thursday to allow civilians and militants safe passage out of the city.

At that time, Russian and Syrian militaries will desist from any offensive actions. Syrian rebels, including al-Qaida militants, as well as the wounded and the sick will be allowed to leave to the neighboring rebel-held province of Idlib.

"The early halting of airstrikes is necessary to declare a 'humanitarian pause,'" Shoigu said in a televised statement. "It will ... guarantee a safe exit of civilians through six corridors and prepare for the evacuation of the ill and the wounded from the eastern part of Aleppo."

Russian President Vladimir Putin's spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said the halt in the airstrikes was a goodwill gesture to pave the way for Thursday's pause. "The Russian military is offering yet another chance, and we hope that our partners will allow us all to take advantage of that," Peskov said.

Aleppo, Syria's largest city and once its commercial hub, has been subjected to the most intense aerial bombardment since the start of the Mideast country's conflict in 2011. In recent months, the Syrian army has pressed its offensive into the rebel-held eastern part of the city. Air raids have killed hundreds and caused international outrage.

Mohammed Abu Rajab, an Aleppo resident, said airstrikes on the eastern neighborhoods stopped early Tuesday, just after the city had been subjected to another intense round of air raids.

"There were airstrikes throughout the night," Abu Rajab, who works at a local hospital, said over the telephone.

In Moscow, Shoigu added that Russia is "asking the countries wielding influence with the (Syrian) rebels ... to persuade their leaders to end fighting and leave the city."

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