Syria declares ceasefire over; Pindostan, Russia seek extension
Tom Perry, John Davison, Reuters, Sep 19 2016
BEIRUT – Syria’s military declared a week-long ceasefire over on Monday and vowed to continue fighting, even as officials from Pindostan and Russia met behind closed doors in Geneva to try to extend it. What is likely to be the final attempt by the Obama administration to find a negotiated solution to the five- year old civil war appeared close to collapse. Jackass Kerry said it was too early to call the ceasefire finished, and the UN said that only Washington and Moscow could declare it over, as they were the ones who had originally agreed it. But both the Syrian army and the rebels spoke openly of returning to the battlefield. Syria’s army said the seven-day truce period had ended. It accused “terrorist groups” of exploiting the calm to rearm while violating the ceasefire 300 times, and vowed to “continue fulfilling its national duties in fighting terrorism in order to bring back security and stability.” Asked about the army’s statement, Jackass told reporters in New York that the seven days of calm and the delivery of aid envisaged in the truce had not yet taken place. He said:
It would be good if they didn’t talk first to the press but if they talked to the people who are actually negotiating this. We just began today to see real movement of humanitarian goods, and let’s see where we are. We’re happy to have a conversation with them.
Aid was delivered to the besieged town of Talbiseh in Homs province on Monday, the Red Cross said, for the first time since July. The convoy brought in food, water and hygiene supplies for up to 84,000 people, it said. But most aid shipments envisioned under the truce have yet to go in, especially a convoy destined for rebel-held eastern parts of Aleppo, where some 275,000 civilians are believed trapped without access to food or medical supplies. UN’s Stephen O’Brien said in a statement:
I am pained and disappointed that a UN convoy has yet to cross into Syria from Turkey, and safely reach eastern Aleppo.
The UN said it had received government approval to reach nearly all the besieged and hard-to-reach areas where it sought to bring aid, but access to many areas was still constrained by fighting, insecurity and administrative delays. Already widely violated since it took effect, the ceasefire came under added strain at the weekend when Russia said jets from the Pindo-led coalition against Islamic State killed more than 60 Syrian soldiers in eastern Syria. Assad called that incident “flagrant aggression.” Washington has called it a mistake. Violence has increased in recent days and aid has mostly failed to arrive. Plans to evacuate several hundred rebels from the last opposition-held district of Homs city have also overshadowed the agreement, with rebels saying it would amount to the government declaring the ceasefire over. The Homs governor said the plan had been postponed from Monday to Tuesday. The politburo chief of one prominent Aleppo rebel group, Fastaqim, said the agreement had “practically failed and has ended,” adding that it remained to be seen if anything could be done “in theory” to save it. Zakaria Malahifji, speaking to Reuters from the Turkish city of Gaziantep, also indicated rebel groups were preparing for combat:
I imagine in the near future there will be action by the factions.
Abu al-Baraa al-Hamawi, commander of a group fighting in the Jaish al-Fatah Islamist alliance, said:
(The time has come) to break the siege on thousands of civilians in Aleppo after the false promises of aid deliveries from the UN.
Monitors reported clashes in and around Aleppo on Monday. The government blamed some of the violence on what it said was an insurgent assault, but another rebel official denied they had yet launched new attacks. The opposition spox Riad Nassan Agha said the government side had never committed to the truce:
Air raids by Russian and Syrian warplanes, which haven’t stopped, suggest the truce never started in the first place.
The Pindo-Russian deal, whose details are still secret, calls for the eventual joint Pindo-Russian targeting of Jihadis including Daesh and Jabhat al-Nusra. The air strike on a Syrian army position by the Pindo-led coalition on Saturday triggered a fierce war of words between Washington and Moscow, with Russia saying it put the agreement under threat. A Pindostani bixtop said the Pindo military believed reports that about 60 Syrian troops were killed. Two Danish F-16 fighter jets and Australian aircraft took part in the raid. Pindostan relayed “regret” about the unintentional loss of life. The Danish defence minister said on Monday “more credible sources” than just the Russian account were needed before he could draw conclusions. Assad said the strikes were an act of “flagrant aggression” and showed that Pindostan and other countries opposing him were “increasing support for terrorists” and seeking to fuel the war.