Friday 19 January 2018

Syria ceasefire holding 'by and large', says UN chief Ban Ki-moon

A Syrian man rides a bicycle through a devastated part of the city of Homs (AP)
A Syrian man rides a bicycle through a devastated part of the city of Homs (AP)

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has said a ceasefire in Syria is holding "by and large", amid growing accusations of violations that threaten to derail the truce, now in its third day.

Speaking in Geneva, Mr Ban confirmed he had received a letter from the High Negotiations Committee, the main umbrella opposition group, complaining of continuing violations by the Syrian government and its Russian and Iranian backers.

The letter urged the UN to help "specify the territory covered by the truce to prevent hostilities in the designated inclusion zones".

The Russia and US-brokered ceasefire that went into effect at midnight on Friday excludes the Islamic State group as well as al Qaida's branch in Syria, the Nusra Front.

The ceasefire has significantly reduced violence across the war-ravaged country, bringing some respite to civilians particularly from air strikes.

But accusations of breaches by both sides threaten to torpedo the deal, which aims to bring back the Syrian government and the opposition to peace talks in Geneva next week. Mr Ban said he wanted the ceasefire extended beyond the initial planned duration of two weeks.

The UN also said it plans to deliver life-saving humanitarian assistance to about 154,000 people living in besieged locations inside Syria over the next five days.

The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said the aid will include food, water and sanitation supplies, as well as non-food items and medicine, for people trapped in besieged areas.

Aid deliveries are a main opposition demand ahead of the planned resumption of Syrian peace talks in Geneva on March 7.

An attempt to start indirect peace talks between the sides collapsed earlier this month over escalating violence in the country, including a massive Russian-backed government offensive in Aleppo.

Meanwhile, Lebanon's militant Hezbollah group said it had recovered the body of a senior commander, Ali Fayyad, who was killed during fighting in the Aleppo region.

The Shiite group, which fights alongside president Bashar Assad's forces in Syria, said the body of the commander, locally known as Haj Alaa, was recovered on Sunday night.

Fayyad is a Hezbollah veteran who has led major battles against the Israeli army in south Lebanon. Lebanese media said he was among four Hezbollah fighters killed in Aleppo last week.

The opposition reported air raids on several parts of northern Syria and warned that continued violations would jeopardise the planned resumption of peace talks.

Riad Hijab, who heads the HNC, a Saudi-backed opposition group, said Russian, Iranian and government forces have not stopped hostilities since the truce went into effect.

He said there had been 24 cases of shelling and five of ground attacks. He added that Russian warplanes carried out 26 airstrikes on Sunday alone targeting rebels that are abiding by the truce.

Press Association

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