Putin puts the brakes on further airstrikes on Aleppo to test the US
Russian President Vladimir Putin. (AFP/File)
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Russian President Vladimir Putin on Friday turned down a request by the military to resume airstrikes on the Syrian city of Aleppo, as opposition rebels launched a major attack on regime-held areas in the divided city.
Putin believes it is "inadvisable at the present time to resume airstrikes" on Aleppo, his spokesman Dmitry Peskov said, according to state news agency TASS.
The current humanitarian pause should be utilized for civilians to leave the city and for "our American partners to fulfill their promise to separate the so-called moderate opposition from terrorist groups," his spokesman said.
The Russian military had requested Putin's permission to resume the bombings, with General Sergei Rudskoi accusing militants in the opposition enclave of eastern Aleppo of killing numerous civilians in an attack on a humanitarian corridor, according to TASS.
On October 18, Russia announced a unilateral four-day "humanitarian" ceasefire in eastern Aleppo to allow humanitarian access, evacuation for the wounded and the safe passage of rebel fighters out of the besieged city.
Neither the civilians nor the rebels agreed to leave eastern Aleppo without international supervision.
Earlier in the day, rebels launched a major assault in Aleppo aimed at breaking the government's siege on the eastern section of the city.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a monitoring group, said the attack was targeting regime forces in the south-western parts of Aleppo.
The rebels almost seized the western Aleppo suburb of Dahiyat al-Assad, it said.
The Britain-based Observatory, which relies on a network of activists in Syria, said the rebel offensive involved several groups, including the powerful Islamist Ahrar al-Sham and Jabhat Fatah al-Sham, an al-Qaeda-linked group previously known as the al-Nusra Front.
Residents of eastern Aleppo launched an online campaign backing the rebel attack.
Activists based in the area reported that tyres were set ablaze in eastern Aleppo in order to confuse government and allied Russian fighter jets.
Syrian state television meanwhile said that army forces had foiled the attack, without giving details.
In recent weeks, al-Assad's forces, backed by Russian airstrikes, have stepped up their attacks in order to regain opposition areas in Aleppo.
An estimated 300,000 people have been under government siege since July in eastern Aleppo, where residents report declining or damaged supplies of necessities including food, water, electricity and medicine.
Once Syria's commercial hub, Aleppo has been divided into the government-controlled west and rebel-held east since fighting erupted for control of the city in mid-2012.
On Friday, Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Muallem vowed that the military would retake full control of Aleppo.
"We will not reduce our forces in the fight against terrorism. We will liberate Aleppo from terrorists and unify the city," al-Muallem said during talks in Moscow with Russia's Sergei Lavrov and Iran's Mohammad Javad Zarif, according to news agency Interfax.
Russia and Iran are the Syrian government's most important military allies.
Al-Muallem said his government was ready to observe a new ceasefire for Aleppo on the condition that foreign powers backing rebel groups could ensure that civilians could use the period to evacuate the city.
Lavrov said militant groups were preventing civilians from leaving the city and emphasized the importance of separating so-called moderate opposition forces from those that have been designated as terrorist groups.
Russia began an air campaign in Syria in 2015 to help al-Assad's beleaguered regime, saying it was targeting extremists there.
By Peter Spinella and Weedah Hamzah