World not convinced by Russia's 'humanitarian pause' in Syria

World not convinced by Russia's 'humanitarian pause' in Syria
A host of international actors and aid organisations have questioned a Russian proposal for a brief ceasefire in Syria, saying the intention is to shore up regime's recent victories
3 min read
19 Oct, 2016
Russia has described the proposed eight hour ceasefire as a "goodwill gesture" [Getty]
Russian air raids on Syrian rebel-held east Aleppo wound down on Tuesday evening, in preperation for a proposed Russian ceasefire set to start on Thursday. 

Despite the temporary respite for residents, the move has been greeted with cynicism from observers.

Many wonder what a ceasefire lasting eight hours - in a war which has lasted six years - will achieve with many seeing it as a cynical ploy by Moscow for the regime to gain military momentum.

'Too little, too late'

In the last month, Syrian and Russian warplanes have pounded the east of Aleppo causing hundreds of deaths, the vast majority civilian.

Now as Russia talks peace, the UK and US have expressed objections to the plan to pause bombing for a third of a day.

"[It's] a bit too little, too late," said one US spokesperson on Tuesday. UK Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson has noted that without a lasting ceasefire civilians in Aleppo will continue to suffer. 

Criticism from the humanitarian sector has been more scathing. The usually guarded UN is now wary this could lead to a repetition of tragic events in the Aleppo suburb of Urum al-Kubra in late September, when an aid convoy was bombed by Russian or regime planes marking an end to a truce.

The UN has pointed out that no aid convoys are set to travel to besieged east Aleppo during the ceasefire as the safety of aid workers cannot been guaranteed.

Meanwhile, Doctors Without Borders has said that even if the safety of aid workers was guaranteed the eight hour window would not be sufficient time for medics and logistics' teams to conduct life-saving work. 

Russia's Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu said the ceasefire "guarantees the security of civilians' exit through six corridors and prepares the evacuation of the sick and injured from eastern Aleppo".

Over the past month, leaflets dropped by Syrian warplanes over Aleppo have called on civilians to leave the area or face further bombardment. 

Some call it ethnic cleansing, as has happened to opposition suburbs in Damascus, which were all but emptied of their residents.

Others have noted that residents of Aleppo have voted with their feet during similar offers for them to leave their homes "safely", by simply staying put.

Syrian rebel groups in Aleppo have dismissed the agreement as a call for their "surrender" and vowed to continue fighting in Aleppo until "the downfall of this criminal regime".

The Russian ceasefire appears to carry a clear message to both civilians and rebel groups who hold east Aleppo: leave now or stay and face further bombardment. This would be nothing short of a war crime.

With little actual diplomatic progress towards a resolution to ongoing fighting there are understandable concerns that Thursday's ceasefire will merely signal a temporary lull to hostilities, before the war planes of death hover over the city once again.