Rus­sia urges Syr­ian rebels to separate from ‘ter­ror­ists’

Kerry, Lavrov agree to ex­tend truce by 2 days

Baltimore Sun - - NATION & WORLD - By Sarah el Deeb and Na­taliya Vasi­lyeva

BEIRUT — Rus­sia said Wed­nes­day that sep­a­rat­ing Syr­ian rebels from “ter­ror­ists” is a “key task” to en­sure that the Rus­sia-U.S.-bro­kered cease-fire con­tin­ues to hold in Syria, where a rel­a­tive calm has pre­vailed since the truce went into ef­fect two days ago.

Russian Lt. Gen. Vic­tor Poznikhir said rebels had vi­o­lated the truce 60 times since it came into force at sun­set Mon­day. For their part, op­po­si­tion forces said they had recorded some 28 var­i­ous vi­o­la­tions by govern­ment troops Tues­day.

The cease-fire deal was reached over the week­end af­ter marathon ne­go­ti­a­tions be­tween U.S. Sec­re­tary of State John Kerry and Russian For­eign Min­is­ter Sergey Lavrov. Un­der­scor­ing the com­plex­ity of the new ar­range­ment, the deal was not made pub­lic in its en­tirety even as it came into ef­fect.

By evening Wed­nes­day, there were no re­ports of ma­jor vi­o­la­tions of the agree­ment, which calls on all par­ties to hold their fire, al­low­ing only for airstrikes against the ex­trem­ist Is­lamic State group and al-Qaida’s af­fil­i­ate in Syria, known as Jab­hat Fatah al-Sham.

One of Syria’s most pow­er­ful fac­tions, Jab­hat Fatah al-Sham’s bat­tle­field al­liance with other in­sur­gent groups makes it dif­fi­cult for the United States to tar­get them with­out the dan­ger of in­flict­ing harm on other op­po­si­tion groups.

Kerry spoke to Lavrov on Wed­nes­day and they agreed that “as a whole, de­spite spo­radic re­ports of vi­o­lence, the ar­range­ment is hold­ing Syr­ian rebels pa­trol last month in Jarablus. Tur­key and rebels ousted the Is­lamic State from the town re­cently. and vi­o­lence is sig­nif­i­cantly lower,” State Depart­ment spokesman Mark Toner said. The two diplo­mats also agreed to ex­tend the cur­rent truce by an­other 48 hours, Toner said.

Ear­lier, Rus­sia’s Poznikhir had un­der­lined Moscow’s in­ten­tion to ex­tend the cease-fire by 48 hours. The Syr­ian govern­ment has al­ready agreed to main­tain the cease-fire un­til Sun­day.

The agree­ment is also to al­low for hu­man­i­tar­ian aid to reach be­sieged ar­eas, with the rebel-held part of the north­ern city of Aleppo as a pri­or­ity.

How­ever, some 20 trucks car­ry­ing U.N aid and des­tined for rebel-held eastern Aleppo re­mained in the cus­toms area on the bor­der with Tur­key on Wed­nes­day “be­cause of lack of de facto as­sur­ances of safe pas­sage by all par­ties,” said Jens Laerke, deputy spokesman for the U.N. of­fice for the Co­or­di­na­tion of Hu­man­i­tar­ian Af­fairs.

The trucks are car­ry­ing mostly food items, and are des­tined for the es­ti­mated 250,000 res­i­dents of eastern Aleppo. Details of who is to dis­trib­ute the aid were be­ing worked out.

U.N. Sec­re­tary-Gen­eral Ban Ki-moon said hu­man­i­tar­ian aid to Syr­i­ans was be­ing held up by a lack of se­cu­rity ar­range­ments. He said he had been in touch with the Russian govern­ment, urg­ing them to ex­er­cise in­flu­ence on the Syr­ian govern­ment to let the trucks in, and with the Amer­i­cans to get Syr­ian armed groups to co­op­er­ate.

Sep­a­rately, Tur­key sent a pair of trucks to the Syr­ian bor­der town of Jarablus to de­liver food and toys on the third day of the Mus­lim Eid al-Adha holiday.

In be­sieged rebel-held Aleppo, at­tor­ney Mo­hammed Khan­dakani, 28, said calm was pre­vail­ing in an area that had seen some of the heav­i­est vi­o­lence in the days lead­ing up to the cease­fire.

“The truce is hold­ing. There is rel­a­tive re­lief. It is an un­ex­plain­able feel­ing of safety,” he said. “But the an­tic­i­pa­tion and con­cern for the fu­ture leaves a lump in my throat. We are still liv­ing in a prison.”

Khan­dakani is a vol­un­teer at a med­i­cal cen­ter in eastern Aleppo. Med­i­cal fa­cil­i­ties in rebel-held ar­eas have been fre­quent tar­gets for govern­ment bomb­ings.

In the lead-up to the cease-fire, 40 days of fight­ing in Aleppo killed nearly 700 civil­ians, ac­cord­ing to the Bri­tain-based Syr­ian Ob­ser­va­tory for Hu­man Rights.

AP

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