Pressure mounts to include Aleppo in Syria ceasefire

Diplomatic pressure is mounting to extend a ceasefire in Syria to Aleppo province after 10 days of fierce bombing that has killed hundreds of people there.

Russian officials said on Sunday they were calling on the Syrian government to include Aleppo in a temporary truce already in place in Latakia and around the capital, Damascus.

US Secretary of State John Kerry, who arrived in Geneva in an effort to salvage stumbling peace talks, called for a “countrywide” cessation of hostilities.

“We are talking directly to the Russians, even now,” Kerry said, after a week in which Moscow refused to rein in its ally, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

“The UN Security Council Resolution calls for a full countrywide cessation and also for all of the country to be accessible to humanitarian assistance.”

Hundreds of people, including many children, have been killed in Aleppo, where government forces are battling rebels for control.

Russia maintained for days that it would not urge Assad’s forces to stop air raids on the city as they were targeting groups not covered by the ceasefire, which took effect in late February.

But on Sunday, there seemed to be a change in tone.

“Currently active negotiations are under way to establish a ‘regime of silence’ in Aleppo province,” Lieutenant-General Sergei Kurylenko was quoted as saying by Russian news agencies, using a term the Russian and Syrian militaries have used to mean ceasefire.

Ceasefire talks in Geneva have been threatened by the Syrian opposition, which said it would leave if the air strikes on Aleppo did not stop.

Most of the fighting was concentrated in the countryside in an apparent attempt to cut off rebel-held areas from supply routes on the Turkish border.

Hospitals have also been bombed.

“Aleppo has been experiencing extreme conflict for four years now and 95 percent of the medical staff in the city has quite understandably already fled,” Sam Taylor of the international aid organisation Doctors Without Borders (MSF) told Al Jazeera from Jordan.

“There are only 70 to 80 doctors in Aleppo. That’s a ridiculously small amount of medical staff trying to deal with an enormous amount of trauma injuries.

“Hospitals and other civilian infrastructure is not a target in this war. It’s appalling that this level of violence still continues in the year 2016.” 

At least 253 civilians, including 49 children, have died in shelling, rocket fire and air strikes in Aleppo since the surge in fighting, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group.

The Arab League is weighing an emergency meeting to discuss the situation.

State news agency SANA said on Sunday that six civilians were killed and 40 others injured in rebel rocket attacks on the residential neighbourhoods of al-Midan, al-Sulaimaniyah and al-Sayyid Ali.