Syria's military to reduce airstrikes for Aleppo evacuations

BEIRUT (AP) - Syria's military command said it would scale back its bombardment of the contested city of Aleppo on Wednesday to allow civilians to evacuate besieged rebel-held neighborhoods.

The announcement, broadcast on state TV, followed 16 days of airstrikes and shelling that have killed over 300 civilians and damaged hospitals and water facilities. Satellite images released Wednesday by the U.N. show the scale of the destruction since a U.S.-Russia brokered cease-fire collapsed two weeks ago.

The government is accused by opponents and international observers of using violence to forcibly depopulate areas seen as disloyal to Syrian President Bashar Assad.

"The government has used scorched earth tactics against us, and then blesses us with an opportunity to leave? Of course this is refused," said Ammar Sakkar, the military spokesman of the Fastiqum rebel faction inside east Aleppo.

Doctors inside the city's besieged eastern neighborhoods said there were fewer attacks on Wednesday, after two weeks of airstrikes in which Russian and Syrian government jets targeted underground hospitals with bunker-busting bombs.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 316 civilians in eastern Aleppo have been killed in the past two weeks' violence. U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has described conditions in eastern Aleppo, where 275,000 people are trapped under a government siege, as "worse than a slaughterhouse."

The government has insisted, however, that rebels inside east Aleppo have been preventing civilians from leaving via the safe corridors it demarcated in July with the Russian military. It says hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of displaced people have fled to areas of government control across the country.