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Russia urges Syrian rebels to separate from 'terrorists'

Published 14/09/2016

Russia says the Syrian ceasefire appears to be holding
Russia says the Syrian ceasefire appears to be holding

Separating Syrian rebels from "terrorists" is a "key task" to ensure that the ceasefire continues to hold in Syria, where a relative calm has prevailed since the truce went into effect two days ago.

The ceasefire deal was reached over the weekend after marathon negotiations between US Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.

Underscoring the complexity of the new arrangement, the deal was not made public in its entirety even as it came into effect at sunset on Monday.

By midday Wednesday, there were no reports of major violations of the agreement, which calls on all parties to hold their fire, allowing only for airstrikes against the extremist Islamic State group and al Qaida's affiliate in Syria, known currently as Jabah Fatah al-Sham.

One of Syria's most powerful factions, Jabhat Fatah al-Sham's battlefield alliance with other insurgent groups makes it difficult for the United States to target them without the danger of inflicting harm to other opposition groups.

The agreement is also to allow for humanitarian aid to reach besieged areas, with the rebel-held part of the northern city of Aleppo as a priority.

However, some 20 trucks carrying UN aid and destined for rebel-held eastern Aleppo remain in the customs area on the border with Turkey "because of lack of de facto assurances of safe passage by all parties", Jens Laerke, deputy spokesperson for the UN office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said.

The trucks are carrying mostly food items, and are destined for the residents of eastern Aleppo, estimated at 250,000. Details of who is to distribute the aid are also still being worked out.

Meanwhile, Syrian state media reported violations of the ceasefire in central Homs, saying that rebels fired mortar rounds on Wednesday in a rural part of the province.

A day earlier, the government said rebels had targeted the Castello road, the only remaining artery by which aid reaches the eastern, rebel section of Aleppo.

For their part, opposition forces said they had recorded some 28 various violations by government troops on Tuesday.

The chief of the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said there were no reported civilian casualties in the first 36 hours of the ceasefire.

"The violations are negligible. Most importantly, there were no Syrian civilian deaths," Rami Abdurrahman said.

A spokesman for Russian President Vladimir Putin said the Kremlin is hopeful the truce deal "will create the necessary environment for political settlement".

"The ceasefire is quite fragile and the key task now is to wait until moderate opposition stands aside from terrorist groups. It's a key task without which further progress can hardly be possible," Dmitry Peskov told reporters in Moscow.

Russia launched its military operation in Syria last year to support ally President Bashar Assad's forces.


Later, a pair of trucks from Turkey delivered food and children's toys to the northern Syrian town of Jarablus.

The aid arrived on Wednesday, the third day of the Muslim Eid al-Adha holiday. It includes around 25 tons of flour, rice and pasta.

The aid shipment, organised by the youth wing of Turkey's ruling AKP party, became possible after Turkey-backed Syrian rebels ousted Islamic State group fighters from the town last month.

Turkey's state-run Anadolu news agency says the Turkish Red Crescent on Tuesday distributed meat from animals sacrificed for Eid al-Adha to 4,500 households in Jarablus.


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