UPDATE: 08:13 a.m. EDT — At least 1 million Syrians could flee to Turkey if there is an exodus from Aleppo city, Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said Wednesday. The Syrian city has been on the receiving end of multiple airstrikes and is under siege from Syrian and Russian forces. Erdoğan added that he spoke to his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin on Tuesday night and the two had agreed to remove the terrorist group Jabhat Fateh al Sham, previously known as the Nusra Front, from Aleppo.
Meanwhile, Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said Wednesday that the country will not extend the pause in bombing rebel-held areas of Aleppo. He added that Russia did not see any point in a meeting between its Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, a Reuters report citing Russia’s Interfax news agency said.
The Russian military said Wednesday that a U.S.-led coalition airstrike killed six civilians in Aleppo. The bombing, which reportedly targeted the village of Hassajek, also left four people injured and destroyed two houses.
After days of airstrikes that have killed hundreds in Syria, Russia announced Tuesday a halt in the bombardment of the rebel-held districts of Aleppo city. This unprecedented halt comes ahead of the unilateral eight-hour “humanitarian pause” Russia promised for Thursday.
Aleppo has been on the receiving end of continuous airstrikes since the breakdown of the U.S.-Russia brokered ceasefire deal last month. The city, which was once Syria’s financial and industrial center, has now become a battleground in the multifaceted war that has entered its sixth year.
The Syrian city is under siege with over 270,000 people trapped with dwindling food, water and medical supplies. The United Nations Special Envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, said Monday if the international community fails to find a solution for the ongoing crisis “between now and December ... Aleppo will not be there anymore.”
Speaking after a meeting with the foreign ministers belonging to the European Union, he said: “Any type of discussion that ignores Aleppo would be something that history will judge us for. Mosul should not be confusing the priority of Aleppo, in other words, if the world is watching Mosul, Aleppo should not be forgotten.”
The announcement of the ceasefire comes hours after airstrikes in a rebel-held part of the city killed 20 members of the same family including nine children.
On its Facebook page, the Russian Ministry of Defense said Tuesday: “We apply to the leadership of countries influencing on armed formations active in the eastern part of Aleppo with a proposal to convince their leaders to stop warfare and leave the city.”
The post also details six “humanitarian corridors” through which civilians can leave the city to receive relief. “Early termination of the airstrikes is essential for holding a ‘humanitarian pause’ on October 20, 2016,” Russia's General of the Army Sergei Shoigu said.
However, Syrian rebels rejected Russia’s calls for withdrawal of its fighters from Aleppo saying the rebels will continue to fight.
“The factions completely reject any exit - this is surrender,” Zakaria Malahifji, political officer of the Aleppo-based Fastaqim group, reportedly said.
Al-Farouk Abu Bakr, a commander in the Islamist group Ahrar al-Sham, also rejected the deal adding that there were no terrorists in Aleppo.
“When we took up arms at the start of the revolution to defend our abandoned people we promised God that we would not lay them down until the downfall of this criminal regime,” he said, referring to Syrian President Bashar Assad’s rule.
Assad said last week his forces will continue to “clean” Aleppo indicating more bloodshed is expected.
“You have to clean. You have to keep cleaning this area and to push the terrorists to Turkey ... to go back to where they come from, or to kill them. There’s no other option. But Aleppo is going to be a very important springboard to do this move,” he reportedly said. “It’s going to be the springboard, as a big city, to move to other areas, to liberate other areas from the terrorists. This is the importance of Aleppo now.”
Opposition groups have repeatedly said terrorists linked to al Qaeda or inspired by the same have no real presence in the rebel-held parts of the war-torn city.
The United Nations was reportedly not given any prior notice regarding Russia’s pause in airstrikes. U.N. estimates suggest that since the Syrian war began in 2011, out of a pre-war population of 20 million people, at least 4.8 million fled to neighboring countries, hundreds of thousands to Europe while at least 6.6 million are displaced within Syria’s borders.