Uncertainty over Syrian aid as US-Russia truce is violated

Published September 17th, 2016 - 07:00 GMT
A ceasefire in Syria has been marred by new air strikes and fighting. (AFP/Thaer Mohammed)
A ceasefire in Syria has been marred by new air strikes and fighting. (AFP/Thaer Mohammed)

Uncertainty prevailed on Friday over the possibility of delivering badly needed aid in Syria, as a truce brokered by the United States and Russia that went into effect in the country this week was marred by further breaches.

Government forces and rebels were engaged in fierce fighting near the capital Damascus, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported.

Three civilians were killed in strikes by unidentified warplanes in rebel-held Idlib province in north-western Syria, the monitoring group added.

Syria's state news agency SANA said a church in a regime-controlled district in Aleppo was damaged after rebels fired a rocket in a breach of the truce that came into effect on Monday.

Russia, a key ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, said it is prepared to extend the ceasefire, originally set for a week, for three more days.

But it added that to do so, the US needs to ensure that rebel groups it supports do not violate the truce, Russian General Viktor Poznikhir told Russian state news agency TASS.

The United States said it wanted to see definitive progress before the next stages of the ceasefire take effect.

State Department spokesman John Kirby said what was agreed last week in Geneva, including a Joint Implementation Centre, "won't happen" unless Russia exercises its influence over Syria.

Russia has "decisions to make about the influence that they have on Assad and the degree to which they're going to use it or not," Kirby said.

If they apply their influence and it has no effect, "then the arrangement doesn't come into being and we're back to, regrettably, where we have so long been, which is innocent civilians being barrel bombed and gassed," he said.

Earlier on Friday, rebels and government forces engaged in heavy shelling across front lines on the outskirts of Damascus, killing at least two fighters.

Nearly two dozen rockets and grenades were fired near Jobar neighbourhood on the eastern outskirts of Damascus, the observatory said, adding that two shells fell in the Old City, controlled by the government.

Battles were taking place on at least two fronts, with regime forces attacking rebel positions, the watchdog said.

Syrian state television said the government forces had foiled a rebel attack.

Faylaq al-Rahman, an Islamic rebel militia, said in a message on its Twitter account there were heavy battles in Jobar and that its fighters have inflicted casualties among the regime forces.

It was unclear who first violated the ceasefire, which has been largely holding up despite breaches.

On Thursday, the government said two civilians were killed, the first deaths since the ceasefire started. 

Russia has blamed violations on the rebels, while the opposition accused al-Assad's forces of breaking the terms of the deal.

Jobar is part of Ghouta, which is largely held by rebels, including hardline Islamic factions. Al-Qaeda linked militants, who have a presence in the area, are not included in the ceasefire.

A large part of Jobar neighbourhood is in the hands of the opposition rebels, while a small part remains in the hands of regime forces.

Sergei Kapitsyn, a senior Russian officer, said in comments carried by TASS that Syrian government troops have returned heavy weapons to Aleppo's Castello Road to secure the thoroughfare from a possible takeover by militants.

On Thursday, government forces started to withdraw from the Castello Road, a key route to the besieged rebel-held eastern part of Aleppo.

Dozens of trucks, carrying UN aid intended for hard-to-reach and besieged areas of Syria, remained stuck on the Turkish border on Friday.

UN envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura has put most of the blame for the delay in aid delivery on al-Assad's government, which has not yet provided any so-called facilitation letters for the aid trucks to cross front lines.

In northern Syria a number of US special forces are expected to back the Turkish military offensive at the request of Ankara, a Pentagon spokesman said Friday.

The soldiers already have deployed, the spokesman told dpa, adding that they are to support Turkish units and moderate Syrian rebel groups in freeing the border region from Islamic State.

A UN Security Council meeting scheduled for Friday in New York on the subject of Syria was cancelled.

© 2022 dpa GmbH

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