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Syria Truce Holds, Aid to Aleppo Delayed | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Forces loyal to Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad are seen near barricades on the southern side of the Castello road in Aleppo, Syria, in this handout picture provided by SANA on July 28, 2016. SANA/Handout via REUTERS

Activists say Syria’s extended cease-fire is still holding despite some violations, yet aid has not reached besieged rebel-held neighborhoods of the northern city of Aleppo.

U.N. Syria envoy Staffan de Mistura said Thursday “we have a problem” on getting humanitarian aid into Syria, despite the U.S.-Russia brokered deal.

De Mistura said the Syrian regime has not provided needed “facilitation letters” to allow for the start of U.N.-led aid convoys expected under the new ceasefire agreement.

He says 40 aid trucks are ready to move and his priority is getting aid into the embattled, rebel-held neighborhoods of the northern Syrian city of Aleppo.

U.S. State Department spokesman Mark Toner told reporters that “despite sporadic reports of violence, as a whole the arrangement is holding and violence is, I’d say, significantly lower in comparison to previous days and weeks.”

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said regime forces and opposition fighters are now ready to withdraw from the Castello road, a main artery into Aleppo, to hand it over to Russian troops.

“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,” Zakaria Malahifji, of the Aleppo-based rebel group Fastaqim, told Reuters.

The delivery is part of a U.S.-Russian agreement that includes a ceasefire that took effect on Monday.

The army and rebels have accused each other of numerous violations, though the overall level of violence has reduced.

Russia, said on Wednesday it was preparing for the Syrian army and rebel fighters to begin a staged withdrawal from the Castello road. But neither side had started its withdrawal on Thursday morning.

There was no comment from state media or the army about the proposed withdrawal.

Malahifji, Fastaqim’s political officer, said rebels were prepared to withdraw but were worried that the other side would take advantage of such a move. “There is great fear because the regime exploits every opportunity,” he said.

Regime forces seized control of a section of the Castello Road in July, part of its effort to fully encircle the opposition-held eastern half of Aleppo.

“If the regime withdraws 500 meters, east and west (of the road) … then the guys will be able to withdraw a bit,” Malahifji said. “But the regime is not responding. The guys can see its positions in front of them.”

Meanwhile, France’s foreign minister said on Thursday that Paris wanted to receive the text of the U.S.-Russia brokered ceasefire deal to ensure there was no confusion as to who was being targeted on the ground.

“If there is confusion… then there is a also a risk of the moderate opposition being hit,” the minister said in remarks confirmed by his entourage. “At one point we’re going to be asked to support in greater detail this plan, so to do that we will need to have all the information.”