Still no aid to eastern Aleppo

Russia and the U.S. have formally extended everybody else’s ceasefire in Syria for another 48 hours, but all is already not well if you’re a fan of Middle East peace:

The United Nations has urged Syria’s government to “immediately” allow humanitarian aid into the country, after a fragile ceasefire was extended for 48 hours by Russia and the United States.

In a sign of renewed tensions between the two powers, who back opposing sides in the conflict, Moscow accused Washington of failing to meet its obligations under the truce agreement.

The UN, which has dozens of food trucks waiting at the Turkish border, warned that the “clock is ticking” to distribute desperately needed aid.

Washington said that US Secretary of State John Kerry and his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov had spoken and agreed to prolong the ceasefire which began on Monday.

They recognised that “despite sporadic reports of violence, as a whole the arrangement is holding and violence is, I’d say, significantly lower in comparison to previous days and weeks,” US State Department spokesman Mark Toner told reporters.

But hours later Russian military spokesman Igor Konashenkov slammed Washington for what he called “rhetorical fog” intended “to hide the fact that it is not fulfilling its part of the obligations.”

Earlier Moscow, a key ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, had accused rebels of violating the truce 60 times since it came into force.

This is probably some obfuscation by Assad. United Nations Syria envoy Staffan de Mistura, seen above (well, part of him, anyway) trying to end the war by talking everybody into a coma, is saying that, for the most part, the ceasefire is holding, but it does seem to be the case that “rebels” have violated it a number of times (60 times, the last I read). However, per Assad’s Russian pals, “most” of the violations can be traced to Ahrar al-Sham, which already rejected the U.S.-Russia agreement and is tightly aligned with Jabhat Fatah al-Sham, which was excluded from the agreement altogether due to its al-Qaeda links. So there’s a pretty clear line between these guys and the rest of the rebels who are still covered under the ceasefire and haven’t (at least not yet) repudiated it (nor, to be sure, have they formally accepted it). Saying that “rebels” have violated the truce obscures things in a way that supports Assad’s overarching case that there’s no difference from one rebel group to another.

Sporadic violations of the ceasefire are far less urgent than the ongoing failure of Assad’s government to green-light aid convoys into rebel-held eastern Aleppo. But here Assad has an argument that, while partial and self-serving, has the virtue of making a little sense. The argument is that any aid convoy into eastern Aleppo will necessarily have to cross through areas controlled by or near positions controlled by Ahrar al-Sham and JFS, who aren’t participating in the ceasefire, and so its security can’t be guaranteed. The obvious solution to this problem would be for all of the rebels to withdraw from areas around the Castello Road, by which the convoy would enter eastern Aleppo, but they haven’t done that, and this is where Assad’s case against permitting the convoys comes apart a bit. See, for the rebels to consider withdrawing from Castello Road, Assad’s forces will have to do the same–but they’re not withdrawing either (UPDATE: there are reports that they have begun withdrawing after a public shaming from de Mistura). Neither side, for obvious reasons, trusts the other not to take advantage of a withdrawal, particularly when the stakes are this high (bottom line, control over Castello Road determines whether or not eastern Aleppo is besieged). And so the aid may just keep sitting in its trucks while the forces on the ground remain unwilling to get out of the way.

It is vitally important to get aid into eastern Aleppo before the ceasefire collapses–or, more accurately, it’s vitally important to get aid into eastern Aleppo in order to keep the ceasefire from failing. I’m bearish on this truce’s chances of holding up over the long run, but if the humanitarian aid doesn’t start getting to the people who need it then there won’t even be a long run.


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