MOSCOW The Russian and Syrian air forces have halted all air strikes on Aleppo, two days ahead of a planned pause in bombing designed to allow rebels and civilians to leave the city, the Russian defence minister said on Tuesday.
The announcement, by Sergei Shoigu, follows a promise made by Moscow on Monday to pause strikes on Thursday for eight hours.
Shoigu, in a televised meeting with military officials, said strikes had been halted from 1000 local time (0700 GMT) on Tuesday to help guarantee the safety of six corridors for civilian evacuation and to prepare for the removal of sick and wounded people from eastern Aleppo.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group said Russian warplanes had launched heavy raids on Aleppo early on Tuesday, but that it had been quiet after that.
Shoigu said Russia now expected militants to leave Aleppo, with their weapons, via two special corridors, one via the Castello Road and the other near the Al-Khai Souq market.
Syrian troops would be pulled back to allow the militants to leave unhindered, he promised.
"We call on the leadership of countries that have influence over armed groups in eastern Aleppo to convince their leaders to stop military action and abandon the city," he said.
"Everyone really interested in the fastest possible stabilisation of the situation in the city of Aleppo should take genuine political steps and not continue shuffling political papers."
Military experts would meet in Geneva on Wednesday to start work on separating "terrorists" from Syria's moderate opposition, Shoigu said, adding that Russian specialists had already arrived there.
(Reporting by Maria Kiselyova in Moscow and John Davison in Beirut; Writing by Dmitry Solovyov/Andrew Osborn; Editing by Andrew Osborn)