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Rivals trade blame for violations on first day of Syria truce

Contradictory reports emerge about whether or not aid trucks have begun to enter Syria
Syrians run for cover during reported government air strikes in the rebel-held town of Douma, east of the capital Damascus, on 9 September, 2016 (AFP)

Russia on Tuesday blamed rebel factions for violating the Syria ceasefire at least 23 times since it came into force on Monday evening.

According to Russia, which is a staunch supporter of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and sent in its troops to monitor the truce in the northern province of Aleppo, the Syrian government did not respond to the provocations and has “fully” respected the ceasefire.

The Syrian White Helmets which conduct rescue operations in Syria, however, blamed the government or its allies for continuing to carry out strikes after the ceasefire came into force, releasing a video allegedly showing rescue operations taking place after the truce began. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a UK-based watchdog also said pro-government forces shelled two villages in the south Aleppo countryside and an area on the outskirts of Damascus, but no deaths or injuries were reported. 

Unconfirmed reports on Monday said that small-scale violations were happening shortly after the ceasefire came into force at 7pm local time, but the situation remained calm with most of Syria seeing a major lull in fighting overnight and into Tuesday.

Areas controlled by the Islamic State group, as well as those held by Fatah al-Sham (formerly the Nusra Front), were not included in the US-Russia brokered ceasefire, despite the fact that many Syrian opposition groups fight alongside the former al-Qaeda affiliate.

"Syrian government troops have completely stopped firing, with the exception of areas where Islamic State and Jabhat Al-Nusra fighters are active," senior Russian military officer Viktor Poznikhir said in a televised briefing, adding that "moderate opposition" forces had fired 23 times at residential areas and regime positions. 

Aid hold-up

According to the terms of the deal, aid convoys will be allowed to enter Syria from Turkey to deliver critical humanitarian assistance but as of Tuesday afternoon, humanitarian groups still appeared to be waiting to cross the border, reportedly for “logistical” reasons.

“Trucks are waiting to cross the border and they have not crossed the border yet,” Marwa Awad, a spokesperson for the World Food Programme in Damascus told Middle East Eye. “UN trucks are waiting at the border of the Turkish side and they have not crossed yet." The convoy was heading to rebel-held eastern Aleppo, she said. "It is only UN trucks at the moment.”

However, witnesses told Reuters that around 20 trucks carrying aid crossed into northern Syria from the Turkish border town of Cilvegozu, some 40 km west of Aleppo, a Reuters witness said, although the sources stressed the security situation could prevent the trucks from going far. A Turkish official said they were mostly carrying food and flour.

Official Turkish Anadolu news agency cited security sources as saying that at least 40 trucks were expected to cross the border by the end of the day. 

Syria's government on Tuesday warned that all aid going to the divided city of Aleppo, particularly assistance sent by Turkey, must be coordinated with Damascus and the United Nations.

"Commenting on the statement issued by the Turkish regime on its intention to send what it says is humanitarian aid into Aleppo, the Syrian Arab Republic announces its rejection of the entry of any humanitarian aid to Aleppo, particularly from the Turkish regime, without coordination with the Syrian government and the United Nations," the foreign ministry said.

Last week, dozens of aid groups in Syria said that they would suspend work with the UN over its alleged close ties with Damascus and demanded the investigation of UN work in Syria. 

- Additional reporting by Elif Beyza Karaalioglu