UPDATE – Lavrov: Syria suspends military operations in Aleppo


ANKARA / WASHINGTON (AA) – Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said late Thursday that the Syrian army has suspended its military operations in the northwestern city of Aleppo.

Lavrov’s remarks came on the sidelines of an annual meeting of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) in Hamburg, Germany, according to Russian media outlets.

“Today, the operations in the eastern part of Aleppo were suspended for the evacuation of the civilians,” Lavrov said. “This is the largest operation conducted for evacuation of the civilians until now. It’s a convoy of 8,000 people, five kilometers long.”

Located approximately 40 kilometers (25 miles) from the Turkish border, Aleppo is Syria’s second largest city after the capital, Damascus.

Since mid-November, the regime on President Bashar al-Assad and its allies have stepped up attacks on opposition-held parts of Aleppo, reportedly causing hundreds of civilian deaths and thousands of injuries.

The fierce bombardments have forced most of the city’s hospitals to halt operations while most academic activities have been indefinitely suspended.

U.S. officials reacted with caution to the announcement.

“Obviously that statement is an indication that something positive could happen. But we’re going to have to wait and see whether those statements are reflected on the ground,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest said at a press briefing.

Washington’s approach would still be “listen carefully to what the Russians say but scrutinize their actions”, he added.

The State Department on the other hand is hopeful the announcement would lead to humanitarian aid to the besieged city.

“But we’re realistic about the continued violence taking place and the difficulty for the UN in moving this aid forward,” said agency spokeswoman Elizabeth Trudeau.

She said Secretary of State John Kerry discussed the situation in Aleppo with Lavrov via a telephone conversation Thursday.

“They agreed to continue discussions about establishing a framework for a cease-fire that will allow the delivery of aid, of desperately needed humanitarian aid, as well as the safe departure of those who wish to leave the city,” she added.