CORRECTED: Russia says Syrian regime forces pulling back from key Aleppo road
Russia on Thursday said Syrian regime forces have begun pulling back from around a key road into the ravaged city of Aleppo, freeing up the way for aid deliveries.
“The Syrian armed forces are fulfilling their obligations and have started a gradual withdrawal of military hardware and all personnel from the Castello Road, which will allow for the unimpeded passage of humanitarian aid to the eastern part of Aleppo,” senior Russian officer Vladimir Savchenko said in a televised briefing.
Savchenko said that rebel groups close to the crucial route did not appear to be carrying out a simultaneous pullback as agreed.
A ceasefire deal agreed by Washington and Moscow that went into force at sundown on Monday calls for the demilitarisation of the Castello Road, and Moscow had earlier said the Syrian army would start pulling back at 0600 GMT on Thursday.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based monitor, said that government forces and rebel fighters remained on the road after that time and the army was not willing to pull back before opposition forces did so.
The truce deal has calmed much of the fighting in Syria but desperately needed humanitarian aid has not yet been allowed to reach civilian areas as planned under the agreement.
Twenty trucks loaded with aid for eastern Aleppo on Thursday were waiting in a buffer zone between Turkey and Syria, high-level UN official Jan Egeland said.
UN Syria envoy Staffan de Mistura warned that the aid could not move into Syria’s second city before the Castello Road supply route had been fully secured.
Russia — which is flying a bombing campaign in support of President Bashar al-Assad — insists that Syrian regime forces are fully respecting the truce, but US-backed rebels are violating it.
“The cessation of hostilities is not being fulfilled by the opposition units controlled by the US. Shelling continues, people are dying and houses are being destroyed,” senior commander Viktor Poznikhir said.
If the truce holds then Russia and the United States could start coordinating strikes against jihadists.
But Moscow insists that Washington is failing to get rebels to separate on the ground from radical jihadists.