U.N. Says Syrian Cease-Fire Holding ‘By and Large’

A Syrian national flag waves as vehicles move slowly on a bridge during rush hour, in Damascus, Syria, Sunday, Feb. 28, 2016. (AP Photo/Hassan Ammar)
AP Photo/Hassan Ammar

Despite complaints of violations from all sides, and some ominous comments from faction leaders, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon insisted on Monday that the Syrian cease-fire is holding “by and large.”

Among the ominous comments collected by the Associated Press were Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir insisting that Syrian dictator Bashar Assad must either step down or be removed forcibly. The Syrian Foreign Ministry responded by calling al-Jubeir’s remarks “lies meant to boost the morale” of rebel forces, who are on the verge of defeat at the hands of Assad and his patrons in Russia and Iran.

For his part, Assad accused rebel forces of committing all the cease-fire violations and said his forces were doing everything they could to give the plan a chance, praising the cessation of hostilities as a “glimmer of hope” but warning that “in the end there are limits, and it all depends on the other side.”

In an interview with German television, Assad also promised “full amnesty” to rebels who lay down their arms. “Just to give up your armament, whether you want to join the political process or are not interested about the political process,” he said, as translated by the Associated Press.

The AP notes that rebel forces have rebuffed similar gestures from Assad in the past. The al-Qaeda-linked Nusra Front — which, along with ISIS, was not included in the cease-fire deal — delivered its rebuff in the form of an artillery barrage against a Syrian town on the Turkish border. The attack was witnessed by a group of international reporters traveling with a Russian military escort. The amount of food aid delivered by Russia to Syrian civilians is also noted in the report.

The U.N. has been insisting the cease-fire was stable enough to deliver more aid to civilians, but the Associated Press noted on Wednesday that aid convoys to some of the hardest-hit areas have been been delayed by issues of a “logistical nature.”

U.N. spokesman Jens Laerke said those issues included slow processing of “facilitation letters” by the Syrian government.

The Financial Times cites complaints against international aid groups for allowing the Assad regime to hold up relief efforts with such bureaucratic maneuvers, essentially turning aid groups into political pawns and ensuring civilians hostile to the regime go on starving and suffering.

Red Cross president Peter Maurer said hospitals have been a primary target of military operations for this reason. He also blamed war profiteering for interfering with relief efforts and called on opposition parties to provide better security for aid workers.

The Russians are using the cease-fire as an opportunity to build support for their position in Syria.

Sputnik News related a statement from the Foreign Ministry after Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov met with Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to discuss the cease-fire on Tuesday:

During the meeting, the development of the situation in Syria was discussed in light of the cessation of hostilities and the need to fight the terrorist threat, particularly posed by the Islamic State and Jabhat al-Nusra. Russia reaffirmed its readiness to cooperate with all interested parties to support the countries in the region in solving the problems they face.

The Washington Post notes that Russia drew up a map of “green zones” containing rebel groups that signed on to the cease-fire and declared they would conduct no bombing in those areas, but then did it anyway, including reported airstrikes against U.S.-backed groups in Hama Province on Monday.

The Boston Herald was deeply skeptical of Russian compliance with the cease-fire on Wednesday, suggesting press reports of idle warplanes at Russian airbases could be a “Potemkin village” performance and pointing out those planes really should not be idle, because the cease-fire does not apply to ISIS or al-Qaeda, and Russia supposedly entered the Syrian civil war for the express purpose of fighting them.


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