UN: Syria Cease-fire Largely Holding Despite 'Incidents'
by VOA News February 29, 2016
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said Monday that despite 'some incidents' the cessation of hostilities in Syria is largely holding on its third day.
Ban said several reported violations of the agreement are troubling; however, he noted that a multinational task force monitoring the truce is working to make sure violations do not spread and the halt in fighting can continue.
He stressed that the break in fighting continue. "We can continue to deliver life-saving humanitarian assistance to many people, at least 400,000 people who are living in besieged areas. ... So, it is absolutely important and crucial that the parties keep their promise. That is a very important one."
French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault called for a meeting of the task force 'without delay' to discuss reported air attacks on rebel-held areas.
U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter said 'if properly adhered to,' the cessation can lead to an overall decline in violence. 'It could be the first step towards a political solution that would end the civil war and the suffering of the Syrian people,' he added.
The cease-fire began Saturday.
There was a noticeable uptick in violation claims on Monday with Syrian rebels alleging the Assad regime attacked towns and villages they hold 26 times. Seven of the breeches they claimed consisted of barrel bombing by low-flying regime helicopters.
Targeting 'populated areas'
"The regime has continued to target populated areas using helicopter raids using explosive barrels, resulting in a large number of fatalities and causing significant injuries, most of whom were innocent women and children," Riad Hijab, the rebels' chief negotiator, complained in a formal letter to the United Nations.
Rebels claim there have been 24 recorded breaches involving regime artillery shelling and five incidents of offensive ground operations.
"Hostilities committed by Russian, Iranian, the Syrian regime, and foreign militias and mercenaries allied to them have continued against the Syrian people despite the truce taking effect on 27 February 2016," Hijab's said. He added: "Right from the onset of the truce, a large number of violations have been committed by the regime and its allies in several parts of Syria."
Hijab said on Sunday Russian fighter jets launched twenty-six air strikes against territory held by opposition groups which have announced and entered into the truce. "Disturbingly significant is the fact that cluster bombs as well as Thermobaric weapons have been used," he wrote.
Map of opposition groups
Rebels say a map issued publicly at the start of the truce by the Russian Ministry of Defense detailing the positions of moderate opposition groups is full of errors. They are urging the U.N. to draw up a separate map.
Russian monitors Sunday said they have recorded nine violations of the truce, attributing most to the rebels.
Meanwhile, the U.N. planned to begin aid deliveries Monday in hopes of reaching more than 150,000 Syrians in besieged areas. Many of these people have been without any aid for up to a year, the U.N. said.
The U.N.'s humanitarian coordinator for Syria, Yacoub El Hillo, said the shipments are scheduled for multiple areas across Syria between Monday and Friday.
'It is the best opportunity that the Syrian people have had over the last five years for lasting peace and stability,' he said.
The U.N. plans to provide those trapped by fighting with food, water and sanitation supplies, medicine and other relief items. Ban said the U.N. needs about two weeks to deliver the humanitarian deliveries.
Less than an hour before the temporary truce went into effect, members of the U.N. Security Council unanimously endorsed the deal.
At the same meeting, the U.N. envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura announced that if the truce largely holds and humanitarian aid access continues he will reconvene intra-Syrian peace talks in Geneva on March 7.
The co-chairs of the International Support Group for Syria (ISSG), Russia and the United States, will be responsible for addressing violations, not the United Nations.
President Barack Obama said the United States will do everything it can to make the agreement hold.
Jamie Dettmer in Turkey and Lisa Schlein in Geneva contributed to this report.
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