MOSCOW (AP) — Russia's defense minister on Tuesday accused the Syrian rebels of massive shelling of residential areas in the city of Aleppo.
Sergei Shoigu said over 2,000 militants backed by dozens of tanks and armored vehicles have launched attacks on living quarters, schools and hospitals in the government-controlled part of the city. He also claimed the rebels blocked civilians from leaving the rebel-controlled neighborhoods, killing dozens.
The rebels in Aleppo began an offensive Friday to break the government's siege of the eastern part of the city, which has been under their control since 2012.
Shoigu said that a Russian moratorium on conducting airstrikes on Aleppo entered a 16th day Tuesday.
Last week, the Russian military publicly requested that President Vladimir Putin allow the resumption of airstrikes due to the rebel offensive, but Putin rejected the request.
Putin's spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said that the president believes that the "humanitarian pause" should hold, but warned that the rebel offensive could trigger a change in that policy. Peskov shrugged off a recent Times of London report alleging that Putin plans to unleash a massive aerial attack on Aleppo once the Russian aircraft carrier, the Admiral Kuznetsov, reaches Syria's shores.
The Russian Defense Ministry's spokesman, Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov, sought Tuesday to turn the tables on the U.S. criticism of Russia's action in Syria by accusing the U.S.-led coalition of striking civilians in the Iraqi city of Mosul.
Also on Tuesday, Russia's top military officer hosted his Turkish counterpart for talks focusing on the situation in Syria, a sign of expanding military contacts between Moscow and Ankara.
The negotiations between the Russian military's General Staff chief, Gen. Valery Gerasimov, and his Turkish counterpart Gen. Hulusi Akar followed a September meeting in Ankara. The two generals also met in October in Istanbul, where Gerasimov was part of visiting Russian President Vladimir Putin's delegation.
The Russian Defense Ministry said Tuesday that Gerasimov and Akar discussed "cooperation in settling the Syrian conflict, including the normalization of the situation around Aleppo," along with the "situation on the Syrian-Iraqi border in the context of operations against the Islamic State group in Mosul."
Turkey and Russia suffered a seven-month rupture in ties after Turkey in November 2015 downed a Russian warplane at the border with Syria. The rift was repaired soon after July's failed coup in Turkey.