Syria cease-fire saving lives, but falling short in other ways

Aleppo aid

The Syrian cease-fire worked out by U.S. and Russia, in its third day, is allowing a rare look at the remains of Aleppo, Syria’s largest city.

CBS News correspondent Elizabeth Palmer arrived in Aleppo Wednesday, and reported Thursday morning that the sound of sporadic artillery could still be heard, as it has continually since the cease-fire took effect Monday evening. But while the truce is not perfect, there have been no deaths recorded and the deal has proven fruitful enough to have been extended by another 48 hours.

The bad news for thousands of residents who have survived in the besieged, rebel-held parts of the sprawling city is that so far, in spite of the lull in fighting, no aid has managed to reach them.

Aleppo continues to wait for aid during Syria cease-fire

Palmer reports that under the deal agreed by Russia and the U.S., all armed factions in the conflict were supposed to move back away from the main highway leading into Aleppo from the north, so aid trucks could move safely in.

Monitors reported Thursday morning, however, that both the Syrian Army and its allies, and the armed opposition forces on the other side, are saying the other has to pull back first. So it’s a stalemate.

Palmer was able to stand on part of the vital Castello Road Thursday morning controlled by Syrian regime forces. The Syrian soldiers at a checkpoint behind her appeared to be going nowhere, so as Palmer reported, there was clearly still some tough negotiating left to do.  

But the holdup with the aid convoy isn’t only due to the localized standoff on Castello Road. The United Nations envoy for Syria said Thursday that the global body had a “problem” getting the convoys into Aleppo due largely to the Assad regime not providing promised “facilitation letters” for the aid.

Staffan de Mistura said Assad’s government had promised to grant the permissions as part of the peace deal, and the heal-dragging was frustrating even Moscow, Assad’s most vital ally.

“It is particularly regrettable ... These are days which we should have used for convoys to move with the permits to go because there is no fighting,” said De Mistura, adding that the Assad regime should hand over the permits, “immediately. We cannot let days of this reduction of violence to be wasted by not moving forward on that... the Russian Federation is agreeing with us.”

There were otherwise mixed signals as to the likely fate of the cease-fire. Russia’s Ministry of Defense took the unusual step of offering up public live video feeds from two cameras on the ground in Aleppo and one from a Russian drone apparently hovering over another part of the city. The Ministry said the cameras were part of Russia’s effort to monitor the cease-fire for violations.

And there have been violations, with both sides accusing the other of continuing to fight. But in spite of those incidents, neither Russia nor the U.S. appeared to be stepping away from the nascent peace effort.

A smooth flow of aid into besieged areas is a key element of the U.S.-Russian deal. If aid flows and major military action does not resume, the idea is that after a full week of relative calm the U.S. and Russia will begin working together to target militants linked to al Qaeda and the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

How long will new Syrian cease-fire last?

But the details of that arrangement have not been made public, or been presented to major U.S. allies. One of the biggest points of contention between the U.S. and Russia, which backs Syrian President Bashar Assad, has been defining which groups are in fact linked to terrorist organizations.

Under the terms of the deal the U.S. was to convince rebels forces operating under the banner of the Free Syrian Army to disavow the group formerly known as the Nusra Front, al Qaeda’s branch in Syria. So far, FSA commanders have refused to do so -- and that is clearly starting to worry America’s allies as the prospect of joint U.S.-Russian military action looms closer on the horizon.

Russia has not been a part of the U.S.-led anti-ISIS coalition in Syria, which has provided support to some groups under the FSA umbrella, but France is.

“If there is confusion... then there is also a risk of the moderate opposition being hit,” France’s foreign minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said Thursday. “At one point we’re going to be asked to support in greater detail this plan, so to do that we will need to have all the information.”