Syria declares ceasefire over, blaming rebels

Russia says ‘rebel violations’ made it pointless for Syrian troops to uphold the truce

Gulf News Report
19:07 September 19, 2016
REG_160919 Syria pic 3

Dubai: Syria’s military on Monday declared the seven-day initial period for a ceasefire brokered by the United States and Russia over, without indicating whether the truce would reinstated.

“Syria’s army announces the end of the freeze on fighting that began at 7pm (1600 GMT) on September 12, 2016 in accordance with the US-Russia agreement,” the statement carried by state news agency Sana said.

It said in a statement that “terrorist groups”, a term the Syrian government uses to refer to all insurgents fighting against it, had failed to commit to any of the provisions of the deal, and had used the ceasefire to rearm whilst violating it 300 times.

Each side has accused the other of violating the truce, which appears to be in tatters, a week after taking effect.

US Secretary of State John Kerry said earlier on Monday the ceasefire was holding and some aid was getting through but that US and Russian officials were meeting to see if it can continue.

Syria’s week-old ceasefire faced a crucial deadline Monday as the Syrian army said the truce would expire later in the day and Russia appeared to bury hopes it could be renewed.

“The basic ceasefire is holding but fragile,” Kerry told reporters in New York between bilateral meetings on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly.

“Humanitarian assistance is moving today to some eight different locations,” he added. “But we’re waiting to get the full download from our team that is meeting now with the Russians in Geneva. That process is continuing and we’ll see where we are in the course of the day.”

The deal came into effect on the evening of September 12, backed by world powers hoping that it could bring an end to Syria’s brutal five-year conflict.

But after several days of relative calm, fighting escalated across major battlefronts, culminating in a deadly US-led air raid on a Syrian army position and fresh strikes on Aleppo.

The US-led strike has strained ties between the truce deal’s primary sponsors, Washington and Moscow, who had said they would increase cooperation against terror groups if it held for a week.

Russia’s defense ministry had appeared to bury the week-old truce it agreed with the United States, saying rebel violations made it “pointless” for Syrian troops to uphold it.

“Considering that the conditions of the ceasefire are not being respected by the rebels, we consider it pointless for the Syrian government forces to respect it unilaterally,” Lieutenant General Sergei Rudskoy said in a televised briefing.

He said “the main issue” was that non-terrorist rebels had not been separated from Syria’s former Al Qaida affiliate on the ground.

In New York, US Secretary of State John Kerry said the ceasefire “did pretty well last night” but that he expected more aid to reach civilians.

“Let’s wait,” he said on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly.

Since September 12, 27 civilians, including nine children, have been killed in areas where the truce had been set to take hold, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

The bloodiest day for civilians was Sunday, when a barrel bomb attack killed 10 in a southern rebel-held town and one woman was killed in the first raids on Aleppo since the truce began.

On Monday, one child was killed in regime shelling on the edges of Aleppo.

Fierce clashes were heard in Damascus, where a military source told AFP the army had launched “a major military operation” against rebels.

But regime loyalists were again on the back foot near the eastern city of Deir Ezzor, where they have been battling the Daesh group since last year.

The Observatory said Daesh militants seized Jabal Therdeh, a set of hills overlooking the Deir Ezzor airbase, from Russia-backed Syrian soldiers Sunday.

A military source in Deir Ezzor told AFP Monday the army had begun a new operation backed by Russian and Syrian warplanes to roll back Daesh’s advance.

“The army has redeployed around Jabal Therdeh after a fierce attack by Daesh,” he said, using the Arabic acronym for Daesh.

On Monday, convoys of food and medical aid were en route to two hard-to-reach areas, said David Swanson, a spokesman for the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

The first reached tens of thousands in rebel-held Talbisseh, where at least two people were killed by shelling during the truce.

Another 78,000 people living in and around Greater Orum in the north of Aleppo province would also receive flour and health supplies, Swanson said.

But aid convoys to rebel-held districts of Aleppo were still stuck on the border with Turkey.

UN humanitarian chief Stephen O’Brien said he was “pained” that Aleppo had still not received promised aid deliveries.

“I am pained and disappointed that a United Nations convoy has yet to cross into Syria from Turkey, and safely reach eastern Aleppo, where up to 275,000 people remain trapped without food, water, proper shelter or medical care,” O’Brien said.

After months of negotiations, the United States and Russia agreed on September 9 to call for a ceasefire, the delivery of aid and the joint targeting of Islamist terrorists in Syria.

The ceasefire ran into trouble at the weekend when rebel-held districts of Aleppo came under a barrage of air strikes and the US-led coalition killed dozens of Syrian soldiers in an attack that Washington said was unintentional.

A senior military source in Damascus told AFP that the truce would expire later Monday at 7pm (1600 GMT) if no extension was announced.