Syrian government forces and rebel groups have yet to withdraw from a road leading to the city of Aleppo, hindering the passage of aid to the Syrian city. The incident has highlighted a major threat to the most serious international peacekeeping effort in months as stakeholders accuse each other of violating a truce.
The aid operation intended for the rebel-held city, which has been blocked by government forces, is a dire test of a US-Russian deal that has significantly reduced violence in the region through a ceasefire that took effect on Monday.
Staffan de Mistura, the UN Syria envoy, stated that the United States and Russia were charged with the responsibility for managing the disengagement of forces from the road, though he also gives blame to Damascus for not securing permits needed to make aid deliveries to other areas.
Supporting the opposition, France became the first US ally to openly question the ceasefire deal with Moscow, pressing Washington to reveal details of the agreement. France also says that the deal would not be credible so long as the provision of aid is disallowed.
For more than five years, Castello Road has been partitioned between government forces and rebels who seek to topple Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. It has been a major line of contention in the civil war.
Russia, which dispatched its air force to assist the Syrian government in blockading Aleppo, announced on Wednesday it was preparing for the combating sides to withdraw from the road. However, as of Thursday morning, it has been reported that both government forces and rebel groups have maintained their positions. An official in one of the Aleppo-based rebel groups said that he was told by international parties that aid has been pushed back to Friday.
In a report by Reuters, Aleppo-based Fastaqim member Zakaria Malahifiji said: “Today the withdrawal is supposed to happen, with aid entering tomorrow. This is what is supposed to happen, but there is nothing to give hope”.
He adds that while rebels were ready to withdraw from the area, they were also weary of the government exploiting the move to stage an advance.
Neither the Syrian state media or the army have provided any comments over the withdrawal.
Awaiting aid permits
Humanitarian advisor for the UN Jan Egeland has placed blame on both government forces and the rebels for delaying aid deliveries to Aleppo and has stated it to be a “combination of very difficult and detailed discussions around security monitoring and passage of roadblocks, which is both opposition and government”.
In other respects, de Mistura blames the Syrian government, saying it has yet to issue proper permits for aid to pass through. The government said that all deliveries must be conducted in coordination with them.
Eastern Aleppo is said to be home to about 300,000 people while over a million reside in the government-occupied western half.
If aid is allowed to proceed, a convoy of 20 trucks will move into the city, and if they reach safely, a second batch will be said to follow. According to the spokesman for the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, the two convoys reportedly carry enough food to feed 80,000 people for a month.
With Russian intervention extended a year ago, Assad seems uncompromising as ever, vowing on Monday to reclaim the entire country. At this point in time, Syria has divided into areas controlled by the state, rebel factions, the Islamic State group, and the Kurdish YPG militia.
Washington hopes the agreement will lead to peace talks, and if all goes as planned, coordinated strikes against Islamic State and the Nusra Front are due to start. But like similar agreements set forth earlier this year, the deal faces many challenges.
Russia accused the United States on Thursday of hiding its reluctance to deliver its part of the deal using a “verbal smokescreen”, including seperating moderate rebel units from terrorists. Meanwhile, the Syrian defense ministry has stated that while government forces were observing the truce, ‘US-controlled’ units have stepped up their shelling of civilian residential areas.