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Syria’s Ceasefire: Cautious Calm as Tanks Fire Shells on Aleppo Countryside | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Forces loyal to Syria’s Bashar Assad stand near barricades on the southern side of the Castello road in Aleppo, Syria. SANA / HANDOUT VIA REUTERS

Beirut-Russia on Tuesday deployed fighters along the Castello road to secure the delivery of humanitarian aid to areas that fall under the control of opposition factions in the northern Syrian city of Aleppo.

Meanwhile, Syrian regime forces have withdrawn their fighters from the same area, considered the main entrance to the besieged neighborhoods east of the city.

The Syrian and Russian military developments came 24 hours after a U.S.-Russian ceasefire entered into force despite violations, driving an opposition commander to describe the truce as “fragile.”

Russia’s news agency Interfax said that a Russian observation checkpoint had been erected on the Castello road, without clarifying whether Syrian forces had withdrawn from the area.

A Syrian opposition source in Aleppo confirmed to Asharq Al-Awsat that the regime forces had already withdrawn from several positions they controlled along the Castello road, adding that these forces had also left positions leading to the eastern besieged neighborhoods.

Al-Masdar News website, which is close to the regime, said the Syrian Arab Army’s High Command instructed forces deployed along the Castello road to withdraw 1km north of the area to allow the Russian soldiers to facilitate the opening of a humanitarian corridor along this roadway.

The withdrawal of Syrian forces from the Castello would pave way for the delivery of humanitarian aid to besieged neighborhoods in the city.

However, the Syrian regime has placed additional obstacles by saying it would not allow any vehicle to enter the area before coordinating with the Syrian authorities.

Member of the Syrian National Coalition Samir al-Nashar told Asharq Al-Awsat: “The Russians bet today on securing a humanitarian corridor through the Castello road to prove that Moscow is sincere in implementing the security agreement.”

On Tuesday, Syria’s state-run news agency SANA quoted a source at the Syrian Foreign Ministry as saying that Damascus rejects to allow any humanitarian aid, especially provided by the Turkish regime, to enter Aleppo without coordination with the Syrian authorities and the U.N.

Al-Nashar said the Syrian regime was not the decision-maker, but Damascus was rather “forced” to take certain stances.

“Russians understand that Iranians are the main players in Syria through their armed forces fighting on Syrian territories. Tehran moves these forces according to its own interests,” al-Nashar said.

A Syrian opposition source in Aleppo told Asharq Al-Awsat that the U.S.-Russian deal had imposed a cautious calm during its first 24 hours, despite fragile violations “that do not seem to affect the ceasefire.”

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) said on Tuesday the majority of Syrian provinces witnessed relative calm a day after the U.S.-Russian ceasefire agreement entered into force.

It said areas of Damascus, rural Damascus, Aleppo, Idlib, Daraa, Quneitra, Homs and several others, were calm on Tuesday, except for the towns of Tiba in northern rural Hama, the village of Kawkaba, the city of Douma, the area of Marj in eastern Ghouta and the village of Ifrat in western Ghouta.

The SOHR added that military jets have also raided an area north of Aleppo. “At least one shell landed in an area controlled by opposition factions in Aleppo city, not causing casualties, while the regime forces launched several shells on areas in the towns of Bayanoun and Anadan in the northern countryside of Aleppo,” SOHR said.

Syrian opposition military expert General Ahmad Rahhal told Asharq Al-Awsat on Tuesday that the ceasefire was “fragile.”

He said: “In the absence of a mechanism to monitor and hold accountable the ceasefire violators, the cessation of aggression could not succeed.”