(Adds details on Wednesday fighting, background)
BEIRUT Oct 5 Syria's army will reduce air
strikes and shelling on rebel-held eastern Aleppo on
humanitarian grounds, it said on Wednesday, after mounting
international criticism of it and Russia.
Last month, the army - backed by Shi'ite militias from
Lebanon and Iraq, and by Russian jets - launched a new offensive
involving one of the five-year-old war's heaviest bombardments
in eastern Aleppo after a week-long ceasefire collapsed.
Air strikes and shelling on rebel-held eastern Aleppo, and
insurgent shelling of the government-held west of the city, have
killed hundreds of civilians since the offensive began on Sept.
19, according to residents and war monitors.
The ferocity of the bombardment, which has included repeated
air strikes on hospitals in rebel-held areas, has drawn intense
criticism from aid agencies, with the U.N.'s rights chief on
Tuesday warning it may amount to a war crime.
It has also created new friction between the United States,
which backs some rebel groups, and Russia, which supports
President Bashar al-Assad and led to Washington breaking off
talks with Moscow over renewing the ceasefire.
In a statement distributed by a Syrian military source, the
army's general command said its decision on Wednesday to reduce
air strikes and shelling came after it had succeeded in cutting
off all entry roads into Aleppo used by insurgents.
It said the decision had been taken to improve conditions
for civilians, whom it said were being used as human shields,
and to allow people who wanted to leave to get to safer areas.
The conflict has killed hundreds of thousands of people and
displaced half the country's pre-war population.
The rebel-held eastern zone of the city has been effectively
besieged by the army and its allies since mid-September, and
about half of its approximately 275,000 inhabitants may want to
leave as food and fuel runs short, the U.N. said on Wednesday.
Since the offensive began, the army and its allies have made
territorial gains in the northern part of Aleppo, capturing the
Handarat refugee camp, and have also taken control of smaller
areas in the south and in the city centre.
The Syrian military source also said the army had on
Wednesday gained control of several factories in the industrial
district of al-Oweija, south of Handarat camp.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based
monitor of the war, confirmed the government's gains in that
area and said that fierce battles were raging on other fronts in
Aleppo, including around Bustan Pasha and Suleiman al-Halabi.
(Reporting by Angus McDowall; Editing by Louise Ireland)