The United Nations has urged Russia to give it control of humanitarian passages out of the besieged Syrian city of Aleppo, which some residents are reportedly calling “death corridors”.
Syrian regime ally Russia recently announced the opening of three humanitarian passages for civilians wanting to flee rebel-held eastern districts of the city and for fighters to surrender.
But only a handful of Aleppo residents trickled out through one passage on Friday, while others wanting to flee were turned back by rebels, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
An AFP correspondent in east Aleppo said streets were empty in the morning with residents holed up indoors and shops shuttered.
Ahmad Ramadan from the opposition Syrian National Coalition accused Russia and the regime of forcing civilians to flee through continued bombing raids.
“Aleppo residents are calling the corridors that Russia is talking about ‘death corridors’,” Mr Ramadan said.
UN Syria envoy Staffan de Mistura said Russia should let the United Nations take charge of the corridors as a reassurance to the beleaguered population.
“Our suggestion is to Russia to actually leave the corridors being established at their initiative to us.
“How can you expect people to want to walk through a corridor, thousands of them, while there is shelling, bombing, fighting?” Mr de Mistura said.
The UN said around 250,000 people had been trapped in Aleppo’s eastern districts since July 17, when pro-regime forces surrounded the area.
Residents have reported food shortages and spiralling prices in rebel districts since regime forces cut off the opposition’s main supply route into the northern city.
Overnight, a maternity hospital was bombed in an air raid in Syria’s northwest Idlib province, causing casualties and heavy damage.
John Kerry says US ‘deeply concerned’ by plan
United States officials have suggested Russia’s operation may be an attempt to depopulate the city and to make fighters surrender.
PHOTO: An injured child is carried away from the scene of shelling in rebel-held Aleppo.(Supplied: Syrian American Medical Society)
“It has the risk, if it is a ruse, of completely breaking apart the level of cooperation,” US Secretary of State John Kerry told reporters.
“On the other hand, if we’re able to work it out today and have a complete understanding of what is happening and then agreement on the way forward, it could actually open up some possibilities,” he added.
Asked if he thought the operation was a ruse, Mr Kerry said: “We are deeply concerned about the definition, and I have talked to Moscow twice in the last 24 hours”.
“This is very much potentially a challenge, but we have a team that is meeting today working on this, and we’ll find out whether or not it’s real,” he added.
“We just don’t know fully, until we finish the conversations today.”
Mr Kerry did not say where the conversations were taking place, nor did he specify to whom he had spoken in Moscow.