Syria cease-fire definitely "fragile," maybe "clinically dead"

BEIRUT -- Syria’s fragile cease-fire started to unravel on Sunday with the first aerial attacks on rebel-held neighborhoods of Aleppo and a southern village that killed at least eight people, violations that came as tensions between the American and Russian brokers of the deal worsened following a deadly U.S. strike on Syrian government forces.

By Monday morning, rebel commanders were declaring the cease-fire dead and lamenting it as yet another failed attempt to end the war that has left an estimated 300,000 people dead over five years. 

The seven-day cease-fire was supposed to end at midnight Sunday, according to a Syrian army statement issued last week. The U.S. and Russia had said that if it held for seven days, it should be followed by the establishment of a Joint Implementation Center for both countries to coordinate the targeting of Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and al Qaeda-linked militants.

Syria cut in two by civil war

There was no indication from Russia or the U.S. that an official extension of the truce deal had been agreed, or was imminent, but there were remarks from the Syrian military in Damascus that it could be extended by 72 hours.

The Obama administration, under intense fire from Russia and Syria for the strikes that hit the Syrian troops, appeared keen to keep the truce alive.

Speaking in New York, Secretary of State John Kerry said Sunday night was “quite good,” and focused on locations where aid deliveries were getting through. 

“Trucks are moving today to maybe eight locations or more so we’ll see where we are today. Let’s wait and see how it goes today,” he said, according to the Reuters news agency. He described the cease-fire as “holding, but fragile.”

Despite largely holding this week, the cease-fire was repeatedly violated by both sides, and aid convoys have not reached besieged rebel-held neighborhoods of Aleppo, Syria’s largest city and one-time commercial center, which has been the center of violence in recent months. Aid delivery to Aleppo was a key part of the U.S.-Russia cease-fire deal.

A monitoring group based in London, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said it had registered a total of 92 people killed in Syria since the start of the U.S.-Russia-brokered cease-fire, including 29 children and teenagers and 17 women. The figure did not include the dozens of Syrian soldiers and ISIS militants killed in the eastern province of Deir el-Zour in ongoing airstrikes. 

A senior Syrian opposition figure said Monday that the cease-fire was “clinically dead.”

George Sabra of the High Negotiations Committee told The Associated Press on Monday that the truce has been repeatedly violated and did not succeed in opening roads for aid to enter besieged rebel-held areas.

Blocked road preventing aid from reaching Aleppo

Separately, a leader of the Aleppo-based rebel group Fastaqim told the Reuters news agency of the U.S.-Russian deal: “practically it has failed and has ended.”

Zakaria Malahifji, head of the political office of Fastaqim, told Reuters it wasn’t yet clear to him whether anything “in theory” could still salvage the diplomatic effort.

He added that there was now “no hope” of aid reaching the besieged residents of Aleppo. “It has been a number of days of procrastination. Every day there is a pretext. There is no hope of aid being delivered currently.”

Seven days after the cease-fire went into effect, no aid convoys have been able to reach besieged rebel-held neighborhoods of the northern city of Aleppo, in spite of the fact that 20 U.N. trucks loaded with aid supplies have been ready to deploy from across the border in Turkey for a week.

Stephen O’Brien, the U.N. Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, said in a statement Monday morning he was “pained and disappointed” that the U.N. convoy hadn’t made it to eastern Aleppo, “where up to 275,000 people remain trapped without food, water, proper shelter or medical care.”

On Monday, the opposition reported 254 violations by government forces and their allies since the truce started on Sept. 12.  Syrian state media said there were 32 violations by rebels on Sunday alone.

U.S. airstrike disrupts Syria ceasefire

The air raid by the U.S.-led coalition killed dozens of Syrian soldiers and led to a harsh verbal attack on Washington by Damascus and Moscow. The U.S. military admitted it might have unintentionally struck Syrian troops while carrying out a raid against ISIS in eastern Syria on Saturday, and expressed regret over the loss of life.

President Bashar Assad, however, blasted on Monday the errant strike as a “flagrant aggression” and said it showed an “increase in support for terrorists by countries opposing Syria.”

Denmark said Monday that two of its F-16 fighter jets took part in the U.S.-led air raid that killed the Syrian soldiers, adding that the Danish military would cooperate fully with the coalition investigation into the airstrikes.

The Danish Armed Forces said it was “regrettable if the coalition mistakenly hit” government forces instead of ISIS militants.

They said the raid was halted immediately when information came from Russia that the Syrian military had been hit.

Britain’s Ministry of Defense said Monday that the U.K. military also participated in the strikes, though it did not explain in what manner.

“We are fully cooperating with the coalition investigation,” said the ministry in a statement, adding that Britain’s military would not “intentionally target Syrian military units.”

Australia also said its military had participated in the strikes in some capacity.