Aid to Aleppo held up despite truce

PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Govt forces, rebels yet to pull out from road that leads to Syrian city

BEIRUT/GENEVA • Syrian government forces and rebels had yet to withdraw from a road needed to deliver aid to the city of Aleppo yesterday, threatening the most serious international peacemaking effort in months as the sides accused each other of violating a truce.

The aid delivery to rebel-held eastern Aleppo, which is blockaded by government forces, is an important test of a United States-Russian deal that has brought about a significant reduction in violence since a ceasefire took effect on Monday.

The United Nations Syria envoy Staffan de Mistura said the US and Russia were expected to manage the disengagement of forces from the road, but also criticised Damascus for failing to provide permits needed to make aid deliveries to other areas.

France, which backs the opposition, became the first US ally to publicly question the deal with Moscow, urging Washington to share details of the agreement and saying that without aid for Aleppo, it was not credible.

Control of the Castello Road is divided between the government and rebels who have been battling to topple President Bashar al-Assad for more than five years. It has been a major front line in the war.

NO PERMITS YET

The government, I repeat, the government, was expected to provide... permits, authorisations. They have not been received.

UNITED NATIONS SYRIA ENVOY STAFFAN DE MISTURA

Russia, whose air force helped the Syrian government to blockade opposition-held Aleppo this summer, said on Wednesday that it was preparing for the Syrian army and rebel fighters to begin a staged withdrawal from the road.

But yesterday, both Syrian government and rebel forces were still manning their positions. An official in an Aleppo-based Syrian rebel group said international parties had told him aid was now due to be delivered today.

"Today the withdrawal is supposed to happen, with aid entering tomorrow. This is what is supposed to happen, but there is nothing to give hope," said Zakaria Malahifji, of the Aleppo-based rebel group Fastaqim.

Malahifji said rebels were ready to withdraw but worried that the government would exploit any such move to stage an advance.

"If the regime withdraws 500m, east and west (of the road)... then the guys will be able to withdraw a bit," said Malahifji. "But the regime is not responding. The guys can see its positions in front of them."

There was no comment from state media or the army about the proposed withdrawal.

UN humanitarian adviser Jan Egeland said both the rebels and the government were responsible for delaying aid deliveries into Aleppo.

"The reason we're not in eastern Aleppo has again been a combination of very difficult and detailed discussions around security monitoring and passage of roadblocks, which is both opposition and government," he said.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 16, 2016, with the headline 'Aid to Aleppo held up despite truce'. Print Edition | Subscribe