Russian president Vladimir Putin has held out the hope of an indefinite halt to his country’s air strikes on Aleppo after meeting French and German leaders, who condemned Moscow’s actions in the Syrian city.
Russia had promised an eight-hour pause today in attacks on the city by Syrian government forces under the cover of Moscow’s air power in order to allow suffering civilians to leave and to give rebels safe passage.
“We informed them of our intention to continue, as much as possible, considering the situation on Syrian territory, a pause in the air strikes. We are ready to do this for as long as there are no clashes with rebel formations entrenched in Aleppo,” Mr Putin said after meeting German chancellor Angela Merkel and French president Francois Hollande in Berlin.
Mr Hollande called the situation in Aleppo “unacceptable, intolerable, unbearable” ahead of the meeting in Berlin aimed primarily at tackling problems in Ukraine.
He made the comments following a meeting with Rahed Al-Saleh, the head of the White Helmets volunteer civil defence force that digs the dead and injured from collapsed buildings, and a Syrian delegation from Aleppo.
Mr Hollande said: “What is at stake, in the end, it’s the honour or the shame of the international community.”
Lt Gen Sergei Rudskoi said the “humanitarian pause” in Aleppo would last from 8am to 7pm, three hours longer than had been announced originally.
He said the break in hostilities should allow both civilians and militants safe exit out of the city.
Two of eight humanitarian corridors out of Aleppo were reserved for militants – one offering an exit towards Turkey and another leading to the neighbouring rebel-held province of Idlib, he said.
Russian and Syrian warplanes halted air strikes on Aleppo on Tuesday, and Lt Gen Rudskoi said they had kept at least six miles away from the city.
Meanwhile Syrian president Bashar Assad told a Swiss television interview that a photo of a five-year-old boy covered in dust and blood inside an ambulance that drew worldwide attention was “forged”.
He rejected the iconic image in August of Omran Daqneesh following an air strike as “manipulated” and said he would send the journalist conducting the interview photos to prove his claim.
He also told state broadcaster SRF that Thursday’s planned pause in fighting in Aleppo was an important step “but not enough”.
He said civilians wanted to leave the city but “terrorists” would not let them.
In the wide-ranging interview in English, Assad rejected claims that he was a war criminal, brushed off criticism from US secretary of state John Kerry, and portrayed the White Helmets teams as a “facelift” of al Qaida-linked militants in Aleppo.