PHOTO: Rescuers carry a child after latest Russian-regime bombing of al-Qaterji area of Aleppo (Karam al-Masri/AFP)
UPDATE 1110 GMT: Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu has announced a 48-hour pause in Russian attacks on Aleppo, beginning at 9 am local time (7 am GMT) on Tuesday.
The Defense Ministry had said on Monday that the pause would be eight hours, but aid workers said this was insufficient to allow for any assistance (see below).
Shoigu repeats Russia’s line — also used soon after the imposition of a siege in late July — that “humanitarian corridors” would allow residents and surrendering rebels to leave east Aleppo, even though there is no evidence that the corridors exist.
UPDATE 1100 GMT: The public administration of opposition-held Aleppo has announced that 80% of drinking water is out of service in and near Aleppo, because of regime and Russian airstrikes.
The Russian-regime attacks destroyed power lines supplying two pumping stations southwest of Aleppo last month. A third station north of the city is near the frontline of fighting between pro-Assad and rebel forces.
ORIGINAL ENTRY: The European Union has said that Russia’s bombing of civilians in Syria may constitute war crimes, but has taken no action against Moscow.
EU Foreign Ministers did agree to impose sanctions on some more Syrians linked to the Assad regime, and they called for a ceasefire in opposition areas of Aleppo city, where Russian-regime airstrikes have killed more than 600 civilians in the past month.
Despite the renewal of international talks on Saturday, about 150 people have been killed in the past 48 hours.
“Since the beginning of the offensive by the regime and its allies, notably Russia, the intensity and scale of the aerial bombardment of eastern Aleppo is clearly disproportionate,” the EU said in its statement. It condemned “the deliberate targeting of hospitals, medical personnel, schools and essential infrastructure”, including with barrel bombs and chemical weapons, which “may amount to war crimes”.
The Foreign Ministers said the matter should be referred to the International Criminal Court, although it set out no procedure or timetable for doing so.
French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said the EU had a moral obligation to act and “to stop the massacre of the population of Aleppo”.
Retrieving a body in Oweijel, west of Aleppo, on Monday:
No Action v. Russia
The EU also said it was ready to put more Syrians under travel bans and asset freezes, acting “swiftly…with the aim of imposing further restrictive measures against Syria, targeting Syrian individuals and entities supporting the regime as long as the repression continues”.
However, it did not — contrary to expectations of about 20 additions — extend its current list of 208 people and 69 companies under sanctions, and that was likely to grow to pressure the Assad government and those benefiting from it, diplomats said.
And diplomats said there were less support for any citation of Russians.
Spain’s Acting Foreign Minister Jose Manuel Garcia-Margallo said Madrid would back sanctions if they helped “bring Russia’s position closer to” the EU’s.
But British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, while saying that London was considering imposing additional sanctions on Assad’s supporters, did not name Russia.
And Germany and Austria rejected the proposal.
“The idea to have additional sanctions against Russia would be wrong,” Austria’s Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz told reporters. “We do not need a further escalation.”
EU leaders will discuss Russia at a summit on Thursday. Russia’s closest EU allies – Greece, Cyprus and Hungary – oppose any penalties.
Russia: 8-Hour Pause of Attacks on Thursday
Trying to ease any political pressure on Moscow, the Russian Defense Ministry said yesterday that attacks will be paused for eight hours on Thursday to allow civilians and rebels to leave the city.
Shoigu said residents and surrending rebels could depart through six “humanitarian corridoers”.
However, Moscow ruled out any ceasefire, claiming it would allow rebels the opportunity to regroup.
Lieutenant General Sergei Rudskoy said, “Given the situation, a unilateral ceasefire makes no sense, since Jabhat al-Nusra and groups allied to it will once again be given a breather, will regroup and restore their military capability.”
Jabhat al-Nusra, now called Jabhat Fatah al-Sham, have few fighters in Aleppo city. However, Russia has long used the demand for withdrawal of the jihadists to offset any calls for a halt to bombing or the Russian-regime siege.
UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said a longer period was required to deliver aid to besieged opposition areas: “We will use whatever pause we have to do whatever we can. Obviously there is a need for a longer pause in order to get trucks in.”
Russia also announced seven corridors from east Aleppo to regime territory in late July, soon after the initial imposition of the pro-Assad siege. However, there was no evidence of relief for civilians — beyond Russian and Syrian State media staging interviews, just after the announcement, near the regime-opposition dividing line in Aleppo — and residents said those trying to move to regime areas risked being shot by pro-Assad snipers.
Assad’s Security Chief Visits Egypt
President Assad’s security chief has paid an official visit to Egypt.
The head of the National Security Bureau, Major General Ali al-Mamlouk, saw the Deputy Chief of Egypt’s National Security Agency, Major General Khaled Fawzi, and senior security officials during a one-day trip to Cairo
Syrian State media said the two sides agreed on political coordianation and “combating terrorism”.
Egypt broke relations with the Assad regime soon after the start of the 2011 uprising, but relations have improved since General Abdel Fattah El-Sisi took power in a military coup in July 2013.