US, Russia-backed truce in Syria continues despite lapses
A general view shows Castello road in Aleppo, Syria September 16, 2016. REUTERS photoThe cessation of hostilities in Syria largely held on Sept. 16 despite minor clashes both in Aleppo and Damascus and a duel of words between Russia and the U.S., the two countries that support the silence of arms.
Heavy fighting broke out in the Syrian capital Damascus between government forces and an insurgent group on Sept. 16 in some of the most serious clashes since a U.S.-Russia brokered cease-fire went into effect on Sept. 12 and brought relative calm to the war-ravaged country, the Associated Press reported.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the fighting between government troops and rebels is concentrated in the neighborhood of Jobar, next to Qaboun, where rebels have had a presence for years.
Insurgents shelled government-held areas in the eastern Damascus neighborhood of Qaboun, wounding three people, Syrian state media said. SANA said the shelling violates the cease-fire.
The Syrian army has returned troops and arms to the Castello Road near the city of Aleppo, through which U.N. humanitarian aid is expected to reached the besieged people of the city, after coming under rebel fire, the Russian Defense Ministry said on Sept. 16.
Senior Russian officer Vladimir Savchenko said on the same day that government troops have returned to the Castello Road after aborting a pullback because rebels were not withdrawing as agreed.
“As a result, with nightfall approaching, the weapons and military hardware withdrawn by government troops were returned to their previous positions,” Savchenko said.
A cease-fire deal that went into force at sundown on Sept. 12 - meant to end hostilities and ensure aid deliveries - also calls for the demilitarization of the Castello Road, the main route for humanitarian assistance into the divided Syrian city of Aleppo.
U.N. Syria envoy Staffan de Mistura has warned that the aid could not move into Syria’s second city before the Castello Road supply route was fully secured.
“In order to actually initiate the movement of these convoys [to besieged areas] we need the facilitation letters. They have not come,” Jens Laerke, the spokesman for the U.N. Office of Humanitarian Affairs, told a briefing in Geneva.
“It’s highly frustrating ... and of course we urge the authorities and everyone with influence over those authorities to push for these letters to materialize as soon as possible,” Laerke said.
The U.N. had hoped that forty trucks of food - enough to feed 80,000 people for one month - could be delivered to besieged rebel-held eastern parts of Aleppo as soon as possible.
Meanwhile, Russia said on Sept. 16 that only Moscow and the Syrian regime were fulfilling a truce deal hammered out with the United States, but stressed it is ready to extend it for another 72 hours.
“Although the cease-fire agreement is bilateral, only one side is truly implementing it,” Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov said in a statement.
Konashenkov also slammed Washington for “unsuccessful” attempts at controlling U.S.-backed rebels in Syria, which Moscow has accused of violating the cease-fire brokered by the two powers last week.
Despite accusing Washington and the rebels of not holding up their end of the deal, senior Russian officer Viktor Ponikhir announced in a televised briefing that Moscow was ready to extend a Syria truce set to run out Friday evening for a further 72 hours.