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Aid Agencies On Standby With Syria Ceasefire Due To Start At Sunset

The Guardian

 

Aid agencies are preparing to send food and medical supplies to the besieged Syrian city of Aleppo, with a ceasefire brokered by Russia and the US due to begin at sunset on Monday. Turkey said more than 30 aid trucks, under UN supervision, were ready to deliver humanitarian supplies to the city, amid hopes that the proposed truce will secure a rare lull in a war that has killed almost 300,000 people and displaced millions from their homes.


“Today after sunset, whether it is the UN or our Red Crescent, they will send food, toys and clothing to the people, mainly in Aleppo, through the predetermined corridors,” Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, told reporters.


Britain’s former foreign secretary, David Miliband, now chief executive of the International Rescue Committee, said the deal offered the best chance of a ceasefire since the five-year civil war began. 


Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, he said: “The indications are certainly that there is a better short-term chance of a decent lull in the fighting than has ever happened before. The degree of Russian engagement seems to be of a much greater order than of any of the previous ceasefire attempts.” He said aid agencies had been given assurances at the highest level that they would be able to deliver aid over the next week if all sides complied with the agreement.


Miliband said: “If there are enough short-term interests that join the Americans and the Russians, then those of us on the humanitarian side have got a chance to try and make a difference for 17 million benighted people within the Syrian territory.” But he warned that the medium-term prospects for Syria still looked bleak because of differences between Russia and the US over the future of Syria’s president, Bashar al-Assad.


Miliband said: “The great difficulty is going to come down to the future of President Assad, because obviously in the west he is perceived as someone who has not just murdered many of his own citizens but has radicalised those who are still there. On the Russia side they see him as the great hope. And there is nothing in this agreement that gets over that fundamental division.”

 

The proposed truce was announced on Saturday after marathon talks by the Russian and US foreign ministers.

 

Under the terms of the agreement, the rebels and the Syrian government are expected to stop attacking one another, though the regime can continue to strike at Islamic State and other jihadi groups. Theoretically, Russia and the US will then establish a joint centre to combat jihadi groups.

 

One rebel group, Ahrar al-Sham, an influential Islamist force with links to al-Qaida, has already rejected the deal, saying it would only serve to strengthen Assad’s regime.

 

Two other rebel groups have written to the US saying they would cooperate, but voiced reservations. They said excluding the former al-Qaida affiliate group, Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, from the deal, but not foreign militias backed by Iran, showed double standards. They said the exclusion would be used by Russia and the Assad regime as a pretext to attack other rebel groups.

 

 

Airstrikes on Aleppo and Idlib have killed at least 74 people since the deal was announced, according to the monitoring group the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

 

Syria’s state news agency Sana said the Assad government “approved the agreement” for a truce. Speaking during a tour of the Damascus suburb of Daraya on Monday, Assad said: “The Syrian state is determined to recover every area from the terrorists, and to rebuild.”

 

Lebanese Shia militia Hezbollah, which has intervened militarily on behalf of Assad, also announced its support.

 

Iran too welcomed the deal, but foreign ministry spokesman Bahram Ghasemi cautioned that its success relied on creating “a comprehensive monitoring mechanism, in particular control of borders in order to stop the dispatch of fresh terrorists” to Syria.

 

Residents of eastern Aleppo are sceptical that aid will be delivered. “You cannot be happy when you’re living in terror,” Abo Aljood told the Guardian.

 

Previous attempts to stop the fighting and deliver humanitarian aid to Syria failed within weeks, with the United States accusing Assad’s forces of attacking opposition groups and civilians.

 

The UN said on Friday the Syrian government had effectively stopped aid convoys this month and Aleppo was close to running out of fuel, making a successful truce even more urgent.

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