Syria Ceasefire Near Collapse

تم نشره في Mon 19 September / Sep 2016. 12:00 AM
  • Children walk near damaged buildings in rebel-held Ain Tarma, eastern Damascus suburb of Ghouta, Syria September 17, 2016. Picture taken September 17, 2016. – (REUTERS)

BEIRUT — A week-old Syrian ceasefire brokered by the United States and Russia was in deep trouble on Monday as a rebel official said it had practically failed and signalLed insurgents were preparing for a full resumption of fighting.

Already widely violated since it took effect, the ceasefire came under added strain at the weekend when Russia said jets from the US-led coalition against Islamic State killed more than 60 Syrian soldiers in eastern Syria.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad called the incident "flagrant aggression". Washington has called it a mistake.

The agreement is the second ceasefire negotiated by Washington and Moscow this year in the hope of advancing a political end to a war now in its sixth year, which has killed hundreds of thousands of people.

But while it has led to a significant reduction in fighting over the past week, violence has been increasing in recent days. A planned delivery of humanitarian aid to besieged rebel-held districts of eastern Aleppo - one of the first steps in the deal - has been repeatedly postponed.

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.

US Secretary of State John Kerry said the ceasefire was "holding but fragile". If the truce were to collapse, it could doom any chance of President Barack Obama's administration negotiating a Syria breakthrough before it leaves office in January.

Kerry overcame scepticism of other administration officials to hammer out the ceasefire, gambling on cooperation with Russia despite the deepest mistrust in decades between the Cold War-era superpower foes. Washington and Moscow back opposite sides in the war between Assad's government insurgents, while both oppose the Islamic State jihadist group.

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".

Another rebel official also signalled the insurgents might soon step up military action.

Abu Baraa Hamawi, commander of a group fighting in the Jaish al-Fatah Islamist alliance, said it was time for a new attempt "to break the siege on thousands of civilians in Aleppo after the false promises of aid deliveries from the United Nations".

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 High Negotiations Committee spokesman 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," he said.

The Syrian army meanwhile had yet to announce any extension of the seven-day ceasefire it declared on Sept. 12, which was due to expire at 11:59 p.m. (2059 GMT) on Sunday, according to the statement issued by the army command when the truce was announced.