Russia and US agree to extend Syria ceasefire by 48 hours
The decision to extend the ceasefire was taken by Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and his US counterpart John Kerry, when they conversed over the phone on Wednesday on the initiative of the US.
"There was agreement that as a whole, despite sporadic reports of violence, the arrangement is holding, and violence is significantly lower in comparison with previous days and weeks," State Department spokesman Mark Toner told reporters. "They agreed to discuss and agreed to extend the cessation for another 48 hours."
The Russian Foreign Ministry meanwhile noted that the during the phonecall, Lavrov stressed that the US should stick to its promise on the urgent dissociation of the US-backed rebels in Syria from Al-Nusra Front terrorists and “those groups who have basically merged with this branch of Al-Qaeda.”
The Russian General Staff on Wednesday also called for the extension of the ceasefire while outlining violations of it.
"In accordance with the Russian-US agreements, the existing 48-hour ceasefire is expiring today at 7pm [Moscow time – 16:00 GMT]. We note that recently the cessation of hostilities was observed in full. As of this morning the overall number of violations by the militants has reached 60,” Russian General Staff official Viktor Poznikhir said on Wednesday.
He added that Russia understands the necessity of the full implementation of the agreements reached, and that it is “in favor of extending the ceasefire across Syria for another 48 hours.”
The Russian military also announced it has carried out airstrikes against Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) terrorists who were preparing an assault on the key city of Palmyra, liberated from IS earlier this year. According to the Russian General Staff, 250 militants were killed in the strikes.
“The fight against ISIS continues. Yesterday Russian Aerospace Forces carried out airstrikes in the region north of Palmyra, where ISIS fighters have gathered for the assault on the city,” Poznikhir said.
Militants have shelled residential areas and positions of the Syrian Army in Aleppo, according to Moscow.
“In the past 24 hours we registered at least 10 cases of shelling of residential areas and positions of the government forces,” the deputy chief of the Russian Reconciliation Center in Syria, Sergey Kapitsyn, said.
He added the worst attacks took place in the district of al-Ansari where “three civilians were killed and seven injured.”
Concerns over joint operations between the US-backed rebels and Al-Nusra Front militants were also voiced by the Russian General Staff. General Poznikhir said that Russia has doubts on the “capabilities of the American side to fulfill its part of the obligations and to separate the moderate rebels from Jabhat al-Nusra.”
The 48-hour cessation of hostilities in Syria brokered by Russia and the US came into effect on Monday at 7pm Damascus time (16:00 GMT).
The ceasefire is part of a broader peace plan agreed by Lavrov and Kerry, last Friday in Geneva.
If the ceasefire holds for seven days, Russia and the US will establish a joint center to coordinate airstrikes against terrorist groups in Syria.
A key part of the agreement between Russia and the US is the delivery of humanitarian aid to the Syrian population, in particular to the war-ravaged city of Aleppo.
However, according to Reuters, two aid convoys are “waiting in no-man’s land” some 40km west of Aleppo after crossing from Turkey into Syria on Tuesday. The UN cites difficulties between the warring parties as the reason for the delay.
"Things are taking longer than we'd hoped," David Swanson, spokesman for the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) is quoted as saying by Reuters.