The Syrian government on Friday opened a new corridor for rebels and civilians who want to leave the besieged eastern neighborhoods of Aleppo, a move that's part of a Russia-announced pause in the fighting and which the rebels in the city have already dismissed.
Residents in eastern Aleppo have said many won't go since there are no guarantees that the evacuees won't be arrested by government forces.
Even as the corridor opened along Aleppo's main artery to the north, the Castello Road, intense clashes and shelling erupted in the Jobar neighborhood in the capital of Damascus, activists and residents said. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said there were casualties both among the rebels and the government forces.
The pan-Arab Al-Mayadeen TV aired live footage from the Castello Road showing bulldozers that had opened the road. Buses and ambulances were parked by the roadside, waiting to take evacuees.
The pause in Aleppo fighting was announced by Russia to allow for the evacuation of civilians and fighters, as well as the wounded. Rebels have rejected the offer, saying it isn't serious.
Before the pause, Aleppo's besieged districts were subjected to relentless Syrian and Russian airstrikes for weeks.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told an emergency meeting of the U.N. General Assembly that nearly 500 people have been killed and almost 2,000 injured since the Syrian government launched its offensive in eastern Aleppo on Sept. 23.
By midday Friday, no evacuations were seen along the Aleppo corridor.
"No one has left the city so far," said Mohammed Abu Rajab, who works at an eastern Aleppo hospital that was repeatedly hit over the past weeks, knocking it out of service. "People are worried they might be detained. There are no guarantees."
Speaking by telephone, he said any evacuations should be coordinated with the United Nations in order for people to feel they can leave safely.
On Thursday, government helicopters dropped leaflets over eastern Aleppo, saying that this is "the road to the nation."
"We are ready for help. Take the opportunity," said the leaflets, which carried an image of a green bus or a dead rebel fighter that carried the words "this could be the end" underneath.
The collapse of the last truce was followed by some of the worst bombing of Aleppo in years.
In Geneva, the U.N. human rights chief said the Syrian city of Aleppo is "a slaughterhouse" and urged the Human Rights Council to set aside "political disagreements" to focus on suffering civilians.
Zeid Ra'ad al-Hussein delivered the stark remarks in an address by videoconference to the 47-member U.N.-backed rights body on Friday as it opened a special session on Aleppo called by Britain and others over the crisis in the city.
Zeid, a Jordanian prince, said rights violations and abuses in Syria, in rebel-held eastern Aleppo and beyond "constitute crimes of historic proportions." He said the "collective failure of the international community to protect civilians and halt this bloodshed should haunt every one of us."
The council was expected to vote later in the day on a resolution that would call for increased monitoring of crimes in Aleppo.