A pause in Russian and Syrian strikes on Aleppo was holding for a second day today, ahead of a brief unilateral ceasefire aimed at allowing civilians and rebels to quit the devastated city.
Moscow announced it would extend an eight-hour truce planned for tomorrow to 11 hours and said Syrian and Russian warplanes were giving Aleppo a wide berth.
Despite the Russian initiative, EU leaders at a summit tomorrow are expected to condemn Moscow over attacks on civilians in Aleppo, according to a draft statement obtained by AFP.
Russia's ceasefire plan has stirred scepticism in the West and the United Nations said it would be insufficient to allow humanitarian aid to reach encircled Aleppo inhabitants.
Moscow is backing President Bashar al-Assad's regime in its war with a wide range of rebel groups, including with air strikes in the divided northern city.
Under growing international pressure over the devastation and civilian deaths, Moscow announced early yesterday that Russian and Syrian warplanes would stop bombing rebel-held parts of the city to pave the way for a "humanitarian pause".
That window, starting at 0500 GMT tomorrow, was initially meant to last eight hours and is expected to see all fighting stop to allow civilians and rebels to exit opposition-held districts via six corridors.
Senior Russian military official Sergei Rudskoi said today the ceasefire had been extended "by three hours until 7:00 pm (1600 GMT)".
He also said Russian and Syrian planes were keeping 10 kilometres from Aleppo.
An estimated 250,000 people live in Aleppo's eastern districts and have been under near-continuous government siege since July.
AFP's correspondent in east Aleppo said although clashes between rebels and pro-government forces involving heavy artillery continued in several neighbourhoods, the pause in air strikes was holding.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based monitoring group, said pro-regime fighters were pressing their ground assault in the Old City as they vied to shift the front line.
Russian and Syrian bombardment had been providing air cover for a government offensive that started on September 22 aimed at seizing the city's east, held by rebels since 2012.
According to Moscow, once the pause begins six corridors out of the city would open for civilians with another two -- via the Castello Road in the north and Souk al-Hal in the city centre -- designated for rebels.
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