A cessation of hostilities in Syria that took effect Monday appears to be largely holding, though the U.N. says further assurances are required before humanitarian vehicles can deliver aid to those in need.
The U.S. and Russia announced the deal on Friday, as NPR’s Alice Fordham reported. If the weeklong cessation holds and aid is distributed to besieged areas, the two powers intend to coordinate strikes against the Islamic State and a rebel group that has had ties to al-Qaida.
The two countries back different parties to the conflict — the U.S. supports opposition fighters, while Russia is allied with the Syrian government.
The United Nations said the fighting has “declined substantially” since the truce went into effect. U.N. Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura told reporters on Tuesday that “calm seems to have prevailed across Hama, Latakia, Aleppo City and rural Aleppo and Idlib — with only some allegations of sporadic and geographically isolated incidents.”
In the embattled city of Aleppo, de Mistura said people on the ground say “the situation has ‘dramatically improved’ with no airstrikes.”
However, efforts to bring aid into the country have shown little progress.
“Things are taking longer than we hoped,” David Swanson of the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs told Reuters. There are at least 20 aid trucks waiting at the country’s northern border, he told the wire service, and “disagreements between the warring sides were blocking aid getting into opposition-held eastern Aleppo.”
According to the wire service, “the Syrian government has said it will reject any aid deliveries to the city not coordinated through itself and the United Nations, particularly from Turkey, which has backed the rebels fighting President Bashar al-Assad.”
In his remarks Tuesday, de Mistura said that “regarding humanitarian assistance, there is some homework to be done.” He called on the Syrian government to allow “unhindered access” for humanitarian trucks to these hard-to-reach areas, involving only a simple notification to the government with no further searches.
At the same time, the Syrian government has accused rebel groups of breaking the truce by firing mortar shells in the countryside near Homs, according to Syrian state media. And Reuters reports that opposition forces “recorded some 28 various violations by government troops on Tuesday.”
There’s plenty of room for skepticism about this plan, given the history of failed attempts to stop the violence in Syria’s five-year-long war, as Alice has reported.
But as U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry told Morning Edition, “What’s the alternative?” Here’s more from Kerry:
“It’s not a last chance for peace. It’s a last chance, we think, to be able to hold Syria together. Because if you fail to get a cessation in place now, and we cannot get to the table, then the fighting is going to increase significantly. It will ratchet up without any belief in the possibility of a cessation.”