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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 21 November 2018

Syrian ceasefire largely holding, but aid not going in

It came as Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Russian president Vladimir Putin discussed broadening the truce, according to sources in Mr Erdogan’s office

GENEVA // The ceasefire in Syria was “largely holding with some exceptions”, the UN’s Syrian envoy said on Thursday as opposition activists reported a mounting number of government air strikes including a raid in the northern Aleppo province that killed at least six civilians.

Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan discussed broadening a ceasefire in Syria across the country with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin on Thursday, sources in Mr Erdogan’s office said as the Kremlin confirmed that both leaders spoke about peace talks due to take place in Kazakhstan.

Turkey and Russia back opposing sides in Syria’s war but brokered a ceasefire meant to lead to the Astana talks.

But the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Syrian government air strikes killed at least six civilians, including four children, in Aleppo province on Thursday.

In neighbouring Idlib province, at least 22 extremists were killed in air strikes over the past 24 hours, the monitor said. Some were carried out by government aircraft, others by aircraft of the US-led coalition, it said.

Meanwhile, the UN said meetings were taking place in Ankara and Moscow to avert a dangerous military escalation and help end the water crisis affecting millions in Damascus.

Fighting in the Wadi Barada region near Syria’s capital has damaged water infrastructure and left some 5.5 million people in the capital and its suburbs facing shortages, according to the UN.

“There is a danger, substantial danger, imminent danger that this may develop into a further military escalation,” he said, warning that “the consequences, unavoidably [will be] no wate solution for the people in Damascus.”

Mr de Mistura expressed disappointment the ceasefire, though largely holding, had not made it any easier to deliver desperately needed humanitarian aid. He said 23 buses and Syrian drivers used in recent evacuations were being stopped from leaving the villages of Foua and Kefraya in Idlib province by armed groups, and called for them to be allowed to leave.

“These are not UN officials, these are Syrian buses with Syrian drivers. And that is not to happen because this complicates then tit-for-tat approaches,” Mr de Mistura said.

The Russian defence ministry said on Thursday it had started changing the make-up of its strike force in Syria as part of a previously announced partial drawdown, Russian news agencies reported. The ministry was cited as saying that the first six SU-24 bombers had already been withdrawn, but that four SU-25 ground attack aircraft had flown out to Russia’s Hmeymim airbase in Latakia province as part of a planned rotation.

* Associated Press, Agence France-Presse and Reuters