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Syrian government accused of blocking UN aid delivery to Aleppo

Aid trucks carrying food and flour blocked from entering east Aleppo and remain in limbo on Turkish border
Bashar al-Assad's government has been explicit about banning Turkish aid trucks from east Aleppo (AFP)

Two convoys of aid which crossed the Turkish border destined for the besieged Syrian city of Aleppo were waiting in no-man's land on Wednesday, as disagreements between warring sides and fears about security delayed deliveries on the second day of the latest ceasefire.

The convoys, each of around 20 trucks carrying mostly food and flour, entered Syria from the Turkish border town of Cilvegozu, about 40km west of Aleppo, on Tuesday. However, they made it little further than the Turkish customs post. A Turkish official said no further trucks were expected to cross the border on Wednesday until the situation became clearer.

The UN special envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, said on Tuesday that the UN was still waiting for Damascus to issue letters authorising aid deliveries. 

"Things are taking longer than we'd hoped," said David Swanson, the spokesman for the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. He said 20 UN trucks were waiting at the border "ready to go".

The ceasefire agreement, in effect since sunset on Monday, demands that humanitarian aid shipments are given safe passage to all parts of Syria. It states that the Syrian government should be notified - and not given the task of approving - aid trucks being delivered to rebel-held areas.

However, the Syrian government said in a statement that it would not allow the entry of Turkish aid trucks into besieged parts of Aleppo without its permission.

The apparent deadlock in aid deliveries further complicated the already fragile truce brokered between Washington and Moscow.

The Russian military said late on Tuesday that rebels had repeatedly violated the ceasefire in Aleppo, with six people killed and another 10 wounded in the northern city since the truce went into force, AP reported.

A senior US official told The Guardian newspaper that neither Syrian government nor Kurdish opposition forces had pulled back from the Castello Road supply route into east Aleppo, a key part of the deal, and that Washington was doing all it could to ensure the UN convoy has safe passage.

“We have spent much of today pressing the Russians and, through the Russians, pressing the regime. The UN wanted to make sure the trucks go through unhindered by the regime and unthreatened by the opposition. And we hope to get that done today,” he said.

“If an opposition group decides it doesn’t want to be part of the cessation and wants to carry out attacks on the regime, then they take themselves out of the cessation of hostilities.”

More than 20 Syrian opposition groups agreed to the ceasefire deal hours before the agreement was due to come into force. Some groups, however, have expressed hesitance about breaking with the al-Qaeda-linked Fatah al-Sham group, who they have teamed up with to fight the Syrian government but who, along with other hardline Islamist groups, are excluded from the truce and could yet be targeted by both the US and Russia.

A Syrian opposition politician said on Wednesday that he did not have great confidence that the truce would last any longer than a previous one that temporarily curbed the fighting in February.

"There is not great confidence that this truce can last longer than the previous one," George Sabra told Reuters in a telephone interview. He also said the Syrian government's insistence on controlling aid was obstructing its delivery to Aleppo under the agreement.

Sabra also said it was too early to talk about any resumption of peace talks, and that this hinged on the implementation of humanitarian clauses of a UN resolution passed last year.

Under the guidelines set out in the ceasefire deal between the US and Russia, both countries have been mandated to monitor whether all sides are adhering to the ceasefire.

Russia on Tuesday said it was abiding the truce along with the Syrian government, but claimed that the US government had failed to reign in its affiliates within the Syrian rebels.

If the ceasefire holds for seven days, it will pave the way for the US and Russia to coordinate attacks on the Islamic State group and Fateh al-Sham, formerly the Nusra Front, which has tried to distance itself from al-Qaeda. Neither the US nor Russia recognises the move. The Syrian government’s air force would also be grounded. 

Last week, dozens of aid groups in Syria said they would suspend work with the UN over its alleged close ties with Damascus and demanded an investigation into how UN financial aid in Syria was ending up in the government's coffers.

The aid organisations in a five-page letter to the UN also called for the world body to be more transparent in how it conducts operations in Syria. 

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