The US-Russia brokered ceasefire could be extended for a further 72 hours, but Moscow has warned the US to press rebels to end ceasefire violations. Humanitarian aid for the city of Aleppo has still not been delivered.
Russia, a key backer of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, has been pushing for the ceasefire to continue, President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman said on Friday. Dmitry Peskov told reporters that Russia was “still using its influence” to make sure the agreement holds. He said Moscow hoped that “our American counterparts will do the same.”
Russia was ready to extend the truce, due to expire later Friday.
“We are prepared to extend the cessation of hostilities for a further 72 hours,” senior Russian officer Viktor Poznikhir said.
UN Security Council members were to meet in New York on Friday afternoon for closed-door consultations on the US-Russian truce, diplomats said. The move came after Russia’s envoy to the United Nations said Moscow wanted a UN resolution to endorse the deal.
Reports of US special forces
Also on Friday, the “Wall Street Journal” reported that the US had agreed to send 40 special operations troops to work alongside Turkish forces to fight militants with the so-called “Islamic State” (IS) in northern Syria. If confirmed, it would be the first time that US Special Forces would work with the Turkish military in Syria.
With the arrival of US forces, the focus would turn to the town of Dabiq, about 40 kilometers (24 miles) northeast of Aleppo and 10 kilometers south of Syria’s border with Turkey. IS used it as the name of its propaganda magazine and the town appears to hold a particular significance to the terrorist group. It is supposed to be the location for a final battle, according to certain Muslim myths about a final apocalypse.
A video posted online on Friday appeared to show Syrian rebels threatening to slaughter US troops after they moved into the town of Al-Rai with Turkish troops ahead of an offensive against a nearby town controlled by IS.
In the video, fighters from the Free Syrian Army chant that US forces are “pigs”, “crusaders” and “infidels” as US commandos are shown fleeing the town. The footage is the first visual indication that US soldiers have been supporting Turkish forces during Euphrates Shield, an operation launched by Ankara last month to liberate border areas from IS control, and push back Kurdish militias.
Aleppo still waiting for aid
Although the truce began on Monday, UN aid for rebel-held eastern districts of the northern city of Aleppo was still waiting at the Syria-Turkey border on Friday morning.
“The challenge we continue to face – and this is the very sad reality – is ensuring all parties to the conflict, and those with influence over them, are in agreement,” said David Swanson, a spokesman for the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.
As part of the truce agreement, the Castello Road, the main route for aid into the city was to be demilitarized so aid convoys could enter from Turkey. But on Friday, a correspondent for the AFP news agency said there was no sign of movement on the Road and that Russian and Syrian government flags were visible in the distance.
The United States accused Syria of blocking aid.
“Right now, the trucks that could bring them life-saving assistance are idling on the wrong side of the border,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest said. “And that’s the direct responsibility of the Assad regime and their benefactors in Moscow.”
jm/sms (Reuters, AP, AFP)