Russia claims Syrian rebels using ceasefire to 'regroup'

Russia claims Syrian rebels using ceasefire to 'regroup'
3 min read
16 September, 2016
A high-ranking Russian military figure said on Friday that opposition groups were taking advantage of the ceasefire to "restore their capability and regroup their forces" in several areas of Syria.
Aid is yet to reach Aleppo on the fifth day of the ceasefire [AFP]
Russia has claimed that Syrian rebels are using the US-Russian brokered truce to regroup and strengthen forces. 

Lt Gen Vladimir Savchenko, head of the Russian Reconciliation Centre, said on Friday that since a truce came into place late on Monday, opposition units have had the opportunity to "restore their capability and regroup their forces in the provinces of Aleppo, Hama and Homs".

Russian Lt Gen Viktor Poznikhir, meanwhile, called on Syrian and Russian troops to observe the truce - but stated that the Syrian army had the right to fight back if attacked by rebel groups, adding that in the case of such a scenario the Russian air force would provide aerial cover.

Poznikhir, a member of the Russian military’s General Staff, added that Moscow was willing to extend the ceasefire by a further 72 hours, while stating that the United States, which Russia has accused of controlling rebel groups, to end their violations of the agreement in order to stop the situation from "spinning out of control".

Poznikhir said that rebel groups had violated the ceasefire 144 times in the past five days. Rebel groups have also accused Syrian and Russian forces of violating the truce.

Speaking to The New Arab from Talbisah in Homs province, media activist Firas al-Said said that a Russian airstrike in the centre of the town, 13km north of Homs, had hit a residential building shortly before midnight on Thursday but claimed no lives.

"There are no groups from Nusra or the Islamic State here. I don't know what they were targeting. The last few days have been quiet but people fear that more airstrikes will take place," said al-Said, noting that Talbisah remains controlled by Jeish al-Tawhid, a faction within the US-backed Jabhat al-Asala.

"There are 60,000 people in Talbisah and the surrounding area, but there is little belief the ceasefire will last. Last time in February it didn't last."

Elsewhere in Syria fighting between pro-government forces and the opposition was also reported by the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

While there had been fighting on Friday in the Damascus suburb of Joubar, in Aleppo city, the Observatory reported that two people were killed on Thursday.

One died in the rebel-held eastern part of the city, the other in the regime-held district of Masharfeh.

Aid convoys that the US says have been stuck in no-man's-land just inside Syria having crossed the Turkish border more than 48 hours ago are still awaiting the green light to travel onwards to Aleppo.

The Russian defence ministry says that the Syrian army is prepared to pull back from the key Castello Road leading into eastern rebel-held Aleppo - but that the process had been delayed after rebel groups fired on government positions in the area overnight, wounding two soldiers and forcing the Syrian army to re-arm and secure positions on the thoroughfare to prevent a rebel advance.

Both Syrian state media and the Lebanese al-Mayadeen TV station aired footage on Friday of bulldozers removing sand barriers along the Castello Road.

However the Nour al-Din al-Zinki group has rejected claims that government forces were leaving the Castello Road.

The UN has said that it is awaiting confirmation from both Russian and Syrian combatants - on both sides - to confirm their commitment to upholding the ceasefire deal and ensure that security and monitoring are in place before aid convoys travel to the city.

It remains unclear when aid will reach the embattled city.