Syrian ceasefire holds but relief convoys to Aleppo stuck at Turkish border

Aleppo: Besieged Syrian civilians waited desperately for aid as relief convoys remained on hold Wednesday despite a significant drop in violence almost 48 hours after a ceasefire took effect.

Russia, which brokered the truce with the United States, called for it to be extended for another two days, in a statement only hours before the initial ceasefire runs out at sundown.

The United Nations said 20 trucks loaded with a month's worth of food for 40,000 people were waiting at the Turkish border for delivery to Aleppo but were still unable to enter Syria.

The US-Russian deal is part of the latest bid to end fighting between President Bashar al-Assad's loyalists and a wide range of rebels, but excludes jihadist forces like the Islamic State (IS) group.

Representational image. Reuters

Representational image. Reuters

Staffan de Mistura, the UN's Syria envoy, on Tuesday hailed the truce for bringing about "a significant drop in violence" despite isolated violence.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based monitor of the war, said it had recorded no deaths in the country since the truce took effect.

Russia said it had recorded 60 rebel violations, but senior military officer Viktor Poznikhir said Moscow was calling "for the extension of the cessation of hostilities on all Syrian territory for 48 hours".

There appeared to be no progress on another key element of the agreement: unhindered aid access throughout the country, particularly to areas like rebel-held east Aleppo.

Millions of Syrians are in desperate need of assistance, especially in besieged and hard-to-reach areas with severe shortages of food, fuel and medicine.

Aleppo, Syria's second city, is a particular focus after weeks of heavy fighting. The eastern neighbourhoods where some 250,000 people live have been under government siege for most of the past two months.

UN aid trucks are waiting north of Aleppo in Turkey, but a Syrian security source told AFP the regime had yet to withdraw its forces from the key Castello Road running to the Turkish border.

The UN's Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in Turkey's Gaziantep said the 20 aid trucks were stuck on the border because of security concerns.

"The main issue at this point is ensuring all parties to the conflict are on the same page... This is a very complex environment and we need security guarantees," said OCHA spokesman David Swanson.

Swanson said it was unlikely the situation would be resolved within the coming hours.

"Based on what we're hearing from the ground, it's not likely to happen today."

Waiting for aid

Residents in Aleppo have welcomed the lull in the five-year conflict that has killed more than 300,000 in Syria, displaced more than half of the population and destroyed their city, a former economic powerhouse.

But they expressed frustration about the delay in promised aid.

"The truce is good, but it's not enough. We want food to come in," said Abu Jamil, a resident of the rebel-held east.

"The situation is still bad as the markets are empty," said the 55-year-old.

The deal calls for the truce to be renewed every 48 hours, and for Washington and Moscow to begin unprecedented joint targeting of jihadists like IS and former Al-Qaeda affiliate Fateh al-Sham Front if the ceasefire lasts a week.

Only hours before the expiry of the first 48-hour period, Russia called for it to be extended.

Moscow "calls for the extension of the cessation of hostilities on all Syrian territory for 48 hours," senior Russian military officer Viktor Poznikhir said, quoted by news agencies.

The United Nations said 20 trucks loaded with a month's worth of food for 40,000 people were waiting at the Turkish border for delivery to Aleppo but were still unable to enter Syria.

Initially, the deal allows the Syrian air force to continue strikes in areas where IS and Fateh al-Sham, previously known as Al-Nusra Front, are present.

Once the joint Russian-US targeting begins, however, government warplanes "will no longer be able to fly in any areas of Syria where there is opposition or Al-Nusra Front presence," a senior US administration official said.

Russia said it had targeted jihadists in Palmyra on Tuesday, in the first such strikes during the truce.

'Very positive'

The Observatory reported minor violations by both sides, but no casualties.

"It is very positive," said Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman.

"If things continue on this path it will be a positive development in protecting Syrian civilians from killing, fighting and displacement."

But there remains deep scepticism about whether the truce will hold, with the opposition yet to officially sign on.

A crucial part of the deal calls on non-jihadist rebels to break ranks with Fateh al-Sham ahead of joint US-Russian operations against the group.

But many Islamist rebel groups cooperate closely with Fateh al-Sham, and the biggest of them — the powerful Ahrar al-Sham group — has criticised the terms of the Russian-US deal.

If the deal does hold, it could open the door to new peace talks to resolve the conflict, with Russia saying De Mistura could invite government and opposition representatives to new talks "at the very beginning of October".

Updated Date: Sep 14, 2016 21:23 PM

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