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Aleppo crisis: Russia to offer pauses in bombing

Russia has told the United Nations it will stop bombing eastern Aleppo for 11 hours a day for four days, but that is not enough to trigger a wider ceasefire deal under which militants would leave the Syrian warzone, the UN said on yesterday.

The Syrian military said a unilateral ceasefire backed by Russia had come into force to allow people to leave eastern Aleppo, a move rejected by rebels who say they are preparing a counter-offensive to break the blockade.

"They (the Russians) have said 11 hours per day and four days from today, Thursday," UN Syria humanitarian adviser Jan Egeland told reporters. "We hope it can be four days from tomorrow Friday."

"They are considering that additional day," he said, noting that Russia had originally announced an eight-hour pause, but the UN had objected that it was too short to evacuate wounded and bring in assistance.

Russia did not announce the four days of pauses. But its defence ministry said President Vladimir Putin had ordered the first 11-hour pause, which was due to expire on Thursday afternoon, to be extended for a further 24 hours.

The Syrian army, supported by Iranian-backed militias and Russian air power, announced a major offensive to capture the rebel-held part of Aleppo on 22 September, unleashing firepower not previously seen in the 5-1/2-year long war.

The onslaught has killed several hundred people and flattened many buildings. Hospitals have also been hit, leading the United States and France to accuse Russia and the Syrian government of war crimes.

In New York, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon pushed on Thursday for the 193-member General Assembly to hold a rare emergency special session on Syria since a deadlocked Security Council has failed to take action to end the nearly six-year war.

Russia has vetoed five Security Council resolutions on Syria since 2011. An emergency special session of the General Assembly could adopt a resolution on Syria recommending action.

In Brussels, European Union leaders were considering a draft text on Thursday that would condemn the attacks by the Syrian and Russian military and threaten further sanctions on individuals and entities if they continue. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and US Secretary of State John Kerry discussed the Syrian crisis by phone on Thursday, the Russian foreign ministry said in a statement.

Separately, Turkish air strikes pounded a group of Kurdish fighters allied to a US-backed militia in northern Syria overnight, highlighting the conflicting agendas of NATO members Ankara and Washington in an increasingly complex battlefield.

The Syrian military said in a statement it would bring down any Turkish war planes which entered the country's airspace.

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