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US 'sceptical' of Russia's proposed humanitarian passages in Aleppo

Russia's proposal raises concerns that Syrian government forces could use corridors to take Aleppo
Middle East Eye contributor in rebel-held Aleppo says guns had not fallen silent and there has been no sign of humanitarian corridor (AFP)

The United States said on Friday it is "sceptical" of a Russian announcement that it had opened humanitarian corridors in Aleppo, with Secretary of State John Kerry saying he feared a potential "ruse."

Russia, a key ally of the Syrian government in the five-year war, announced on Thursday several corridors for civilians and surrendering fighters to leave the northern Syrian city, which has been under heavy assault for weeks.

Besieged residents were cowering indoors, afraid to use what some called "death corridors."

Kerry - who has spoken twice with Moscow in the past day and met with his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov on Tuesday in Laos - said cooperation between Moscow and Washington could turn sour if the announcement proves deceitful.

"It has the risk, if it is a ruse, of completely breaking apart the level of cooperation," Kerry said.

"On the other hand, if we're able to work it out today and have a complete understanding of what is happening and an agreement on the way forward, it could actually open up some possibilities."

The proposal raised concerns that the corridors could be used to flush out Aleppo before a final push by the Syrian government forces to take the city.

"We are taking a look at Russia's announcement of humanitarian corridors, but given their record on this, we are sceptical to say the least," White House Deputy Press Secretary Eric Schultz said at a briefing.

On Thursday, Russia said it was launching a "large-scale humanitarian operation" to open the corridors to allow civilians and fighters to flee the embattled northern city of Aleppo.

Russia's Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu told Russian news agencies that his forces, along with the Syrian government, would open up three corridors "to aid civilians held hostage by terrorists and for fighters wishing to lay down their arms". 

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad also announced shortly after that they had introduced an amnesty for rebel forces who chose to surrender, the official SANA news agency reported.

He said the call to "everyone carrying arms... and sought by justice... is excluded from full punishment if they hand themselves in and lay down their weapons," SANA said, quoting a presidential decree on a three-month amnesty offer.

However, Zouhir al-Shimale, a Middle East Eye contributor in rebel-held Aleppo, said that guns had not fallen silent and that there had been no sign as yet of the corridor, despite the government or Russia dropping leaflets overnight telling civilians to leave the city ahead of further anti-rebel advances.

From this morning until now there have been five air strikes around these areas [where the humanitarian corridor was expected to be],” Shimale said.

“When people tried to cross the Bustan Qasr pass [which connects rebel-held east Aleppo with the government-held west] this morning five shells hit the street around the path, injuring two.” 

The head of Aleppo City Council, Haji Hassan, told MEE that reports a humanitarian corridor had been set up were "lies".

"Civilians are being targeted in all locations, especially around hospitals, schools and markets.

"How can the person who has been bombing civilians set up humanitarian corridors for them?"