Russia today said it was ready to guarantee safe passage for rebels to quit eastern Aleppo with their weapons, amid fierce Western criticism of its bombing campaign. "We are ready to ensure the safe withdrawal of armed rebels, the unimpeded passage of civilians to and from eastern Aleppo, as well as the delivery of humanitarian aid there," Russian Lieutenant General Sergei Rudskoy said in a televised briefing. The announcement comes as Moscow and Washington gear up for international Syria talks on Saturday, the first since the United States suspended ceasefire negotiations with Russia in protest at the fierce assault on Aleppo. Moscow -- which is backing Syrian regime forces -- first announced in late July the creation of corridors for civilians and armed rebels to leave eastern Aleppo, but the plan was viewed by some as a cynical ploy to force the evacuation of the city and failed to work. Rudskoy said that the Syrian army has already offered to guarantee the safety of armed rebels wishing to leave Aleppo using the Castello Road, the main route for humanitarian assistance into the divided city. He added that Russia was ready to hear "all initiatives and proposals" that would ensure rebels' safe withdrawal. A brutal government offensive against rebel-held eastern Aleppo backed up by Russian airpower has plunged Syria into some of the worst violence it has seen since the five-year-old conflict erupted. An international monitor said Syrian and Russian warplanes carried out fresh strikes on rebel-held districts of Aleppo early today, after an intense bombardment over the previous two days killed more than 70 civilians. Russia's defence ministry today denied that its airforce was bombing Aleppo at all. "I want to stress that Russian planes are conducting targeted, single air strikes against pre-verified targets outside the city of Aleppo and outside residential areas," Rudskoy said. Washington earlier this month pulled the plug on talks with Moscow on ways to revive a short-lived ceasefire that unravelled in September. The West has accused Moscow and Damascus of committing potential war crimes in the operations against eastern Aleppo.
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