The Mercury

Blame game over Syria truce flop

- Damascus

THE warring factions in Syria traded accusation­s yesterday, as Russia blamed the US and rebels for violating a ceasefire, while a top member of the opposition said the entire truce was a “big lie”.

Nonetheles­s, aid began to trickle into some besieged and hard to reach areas for the first time since Moscow and Washington negotiated a fragile cessation of hostilitie­s agreement, which went into place last Monday.

Despite the tough talk and risk of collapse, the ceasefire did manage to drasticall­y reduce the levels of violence in the country in the past week.

An airstrike on a Syrian army post in the east of the country on Saturday by the anti-Islamic State coalition, led by the US, killed more than 60 Syrian soldiers, adding to the tensions.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad slammed “blatant American aggression”.

The US and its allies have expressed regret over the incident, with Washington saying the target of the airstrike was Islamic State and it had informed Russia, alAssad’s key benefactor, in advance of its planned raid.

The opposition accused the Syrian government of violating the ceasefire dozens of times, including recent airstrikes in Aleppo and the south of the country. Russia, for its part, made similar claims against the rebels.

“Militants are not observing the ceasefire. We believe that its unilateral observance by Syrian government forces is meaningles­s,” Russian General Sergei Rudskoi said.

Rudskoi also repeated Moscow’s criticism that the US hadn’t fulfilled its pledge to separate the so-called moderate opposition from UN-designated terrorists, including al-Qaeda-linked militants.

Extremists are fighting alongside rebels against al-Assad, as the opposition relies on the strength of hardline groups.

The official state of the ceasefire remained unclear.

The Syrian state-run news agency SANA reported that the ceasefire had lasted seven days, until midnight, “with the army reserving the right to respond decisively using all types of firepower to any breach”.

The opposition too voiced concern.

“This week of truce did not last and it failed to achieve its goal in sending humanitari­an assistance,” George Sabra, a senior member of the rebel high negotiatio­ns committee said.

Some 40 trucks ready to transfer aid assistance to eastern Aleppo, where 300 000 people are living under siege, are still stuck at the Turkish border waiting for permission from the Syrian government.

The area has not had an aid delivery since July.

Stephen O’Brien, a top UN official for humanitari­an affairs, said he was “pained and disappoint­ed” by the delay.

“Millions of Syrian civilians continue to face horrific deprivatio­n and violence,” he added. However, the Syrian Red Crescent did manage to bring in 12 000 food parcels to Moudamyat al Sham, a rebel-held area located at the outskirts of the capital Damascus, state media reported.

The rebel-held town of Talbiseh, north of Homs, also successful­ly received an aid delivery meant to feed tens of thousands of people, as did an opposition-controlled territory near Aleppo.

The US-Russian agreement for a ceasefire in Syria stipulated that it was to last for seven days and, if successful, the two countries would consider carrying out joint strikes against targets such as al-Qaedalinke­d fighters.

Meanwhile, Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, a key backer of the armed opposition in northern Syria, repeated his call for a nofly zone in the north.

This call has already been rejected by policy makers in Washington as difficult to implement, especially since Russia began an air campaign last year.

However, Turkey has sent its own troops into northern Syria recently to take territory from Islamic State and also from the Kurds, though the US has convinced Ankara to back off its Kurdish allies. – dpa

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