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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

Kerry 'Hopeful' About Aleppo Ceasefire Agreement with Russia

By VOA News December 08, 2016

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Thursday said the Syrian government has stopped all active military operations in Aleppo and a meeting has been scheduled Saturday between U.S. and Russian military experts to discuss the situation moving forward.

"An agreement has been reached for our military experts and diplomats to meet on Saturday in Geneva to finish the work that was being done on all these days on the document that defines ways and means for a final solution of the problem of eastern Aleppo according to which all the militants leave it as well as those civilians who want to do so," Lavrov said.

Earlier in the day Thursday, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said he was "hopeful" about a potential ceasefire agreement with Russia to end fighting in Aleppo.

After meeting with Lavrov, Kerry told reporters he was still waiting for "certain feedback and input," but said "we're working on something here," without going into further detail.

Earlier Thursday, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad indicated that his soldiers would continue to fight until the five-year-old conflict is over.

Assad made the vow in an interview published Thursday in the state-owned newspaper al-Watan, one day after Syria's Russian-backed army gained control over three-quarters of Aleppo's Old City, which had been under rebel control since 2012.

Assad said a victory in Aleppo would not mean an end to the war, but represents a huge step towards that end.

The president also rejected any thoughts of a truce in Aleppo, as long as the rebels remain in the city. Rebel forces have proposed a five-day cease-fire to ensure the humanitarian evacuation of civilians, promising to discuss the future of Aleppo once that had been achieved.

Jan Egeland, senior advisor to the United Nations Special Envoy for Syria, said during a press briefing said the Syrian government had given the U.N. permission to access eastern Aleppo, but the organization was helpless to transport aid into the city if there was no pause in fighting.

"A humanitarian corridor is only a humanitarian corridor if there is ceasefire in and around the corridor," he said. "There has to be a pause. At the moment those who try to go through the crossing point, try to escape are caught in cross fire, they are caught in shelling, they are, they risk being hit by snipers."

Egeland said he had been in contact with Russian officials, who promised him there would be an evacuation organized, but the officials failed to promise a pause in the fighting.

The International Committee of the Red Cross said Thursday that it had evacuated about 150 civilians in need of urgent medical care from a hospital in the Old City. "Many of them cannot move and need special attention and care," ICRC spokeswoman Marianne Gasser told reporters.

Tens of thousands of civilians are thought to be trapped in eastern Aleppo despite a huge surge of refugees fleeing in the past two weeks for the relative safety of government-controlled western districts. Monitors last week estimated that 18,000 civilians in the east had moved into western neighborhoods and more than 9,000 others into a Kurdish-controlled district.

The United States, along with Canada, France, Germany, Italy and Britain, called Wednesday for an immediate cease-fire in Aleppo and condemned Russia for interfering with attempts to bring humanitarian aid to those civilians trapped in the Syrian city.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which monitors and reports on Syria's civil war, says 369 civilians have been killed in the offensive on east Aleppo, including 45 children. Another 92 civilians - including 34 children - were killed by rebel shelling on government-held west Aleppo.

U.N. special envoy Stefan de Mistura said last week he expected eastern Aleppo to fall to government forces by the end of December, without a negotiated settlement to end the four-year rebel occupation.

State Department correspondent Steve Herman contributed to this report.

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