Syrian guns fall silent to allow Aleppo's dead to be collected
AMMAN (Reuters) - Guns fell silent in one of the main battle zones of Syria's biggest city, Aleppo, on Tuesday to let aid workers collect 31 bodies that had been rotting amid the rubble of the front line - the first truce in months of warfare in the city.
Red Crescent workers and members of an opposition local council drove into the edge of the working class al-Sakhour district in north Aleppo to pick up the mostly civilian dead, many of them hit by army sniper fire, as fighters from the two sides looked on, activists and rebel military sources said.
The opposition Aleppo Media Centre said the majority of the bodies, which included children, had already decomposed.
Some had been lying in the streets and between buildings for months. Three bodies were found with their hands tied and four were burnt beyond recognition, the monitoring group said.
Video footage taken by the centre showed blue, grey and white body bags containing the corpses being unloaded into a schoolyard by men wearing masks and gloves.
"They were lying in no man's land and rotting. With the weather changing, I think the other side was worried about disease spreading and allowed the truce," one rebel commander said.
"They were mostly inhabitants of the area. Some had fled and came back to check their houses on the front line, and were hit by the government's snipers."
Large parts of Aleppo, once a cosmopolitan commercial hub, have fallen to Sunni Islamist opposition forces in the two-year-old uprising against President Bashar al-Assad, who belongs to the Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shi'ite Islam.
But government forces still control key districts, and are dug in fortress-like intelligence compounds.
Al-Sakhour's population had swollen from migration in the years before the revolt as living conditions worsened in the countryside and a water crisis devastated the economy of provinces to the east.
The district, whose residents made a hard living in nearby stone quarries and cotton mills, was among the first working class areas in Aleppo to see demonstrations against Assad, months after the revolt erupted in the rural south.
An official in the local opposition council who accompanied the Red Crescent convoy into al-Sakhour said a previous attempt to collect the bodies had been thwarted by sniper fire.
"This time God was with us and we pulled them all out. Three children of different ages and one woman were among them," he said.
Opposition campaigner Abu Louay al-Halabi said the one-day truce appeared to have been agreed to by a government commander on the ground, and was not an indication that fighting in the area might abate.
"It seems that one man on the battlefield wanted to make a gesture of after nine months of fighting and no advance by either side," he said.
Elsewhere in the city, activists reported heavy fighting near Aleppo International airport and army sniper fire in the central Bab Jenin districts, where they said one man had been killed.
Several rebel fighters were also killed in clashes with Assad's forces in different parts of the city, located 310 km (195 miles) north of Damascus.
Assad's father, the late president Hafez al-Assad, forged an alliance with Aleppo's merchant class that was, until the revolt, a pillar of his family's rule over Syria.
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