Russia said Wednesday that separating Syrian rebels from ‘terrorists’ is a “key task” to ensure that the Russia-U.S.-brokered cease-fire continues to hold in Syria, where a relative calm has prevailed since the truce went into effect two days ago.
The cease-fire deal was reached over the weekend after marathon negotiations between U.S. 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 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 (I.S.) 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 U.N aid and destined for rebel-held eastern Aleppo remained Wednesday 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 U.N. office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said in an email.
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 cease-fire in central Homs, saying that rebels fired mortar rounds 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 Wednesday there were no reported civilian casualties in the first 36 hours of the cease-fire.
“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 cease-fire 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.