Families return as truce extended in Aleppo

Aleppo, May 7

Displaced families returned home and schools reopened in rebel-held districts of Syria’s Aleppo today after a temporary truce was extended for 72 hours in the battleground northern city.

Residents trickled back into eastern areas of Aleppo, encouraged by a halt in the deadly violence that hit last month, an AFP reporter said.

More than 300 civilians were killed in two weeks of fighting in the divided city before the truce took hold on Thursday, with regime air strikes on its opposition-held east and rebel shelling on its regime-controlled west.

“I decided to come home after relatives told me it was calm,” father-of-six Abu Mohammed said.

“We left because it was carnage here. The air strikes were incredible,” said the resident of the rebel-held Kalasseh neighbourhood.

The international community hopes that a drop in fighting can revive faltering peace talks to end a five-year war that has killed more than 270,000 people and displaced millions.

Schools in Aleppo’s east reopened today after staying closed for more than two weeks, the AFP reporter said.

“Almost all students have come back, apart from those who fled their neighbourhoods,” a primary school teacher in the Shaar district said.

Russia’s defence ministry said the truce had been extended “in order to prevent the situation from worsening” just minutes before the initial 48-hour truce for the city was due to expire.

The truce held in Aleppo on Thursday and Friday, after violence in the city last month severely threatened a nationwide ceasefire between President Bashar al-Assad’s regime and non-jihadist rebels.

The United States — which has been working with Moscow to pressure the regime to stop the violence and revive the February 27 cessation of hostilities — also confirmed the extension.

“While we welcome this recent extension, our goal is to get to a point where we no longer have to count the hours and that the cessation of hostilities is fully respected across Syria,” US State Department spokesman John Kirby said.

Fighting has resumed in the rebel bastion of Eastern Ghouta outside Damascus and on the outskirts of Aleppo city.

The Islamic State group meanwhile clashed with regime forces near the divided eastern city of Deir Ezzor yesterday, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

The violence killed five jihadists and around 10 pro-regime fighters, whose bodies IS displayed on the walls of a public garden in the city, the Britain-based monitor said.