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Russia, Syria stop bombing areas of possible location of opposition units

The Russian Armed Forces General Staff reports the Syrian government forces have started withdrawing tanks, infantry combat vehicles and artillery guns

MOSCOW, September 15 /TASS/. Russian and Syrian warplanes have stopped bombing areas of possible location of opposition units, Lieutenant General Viktor Poznikhir, the first deputy head of the main operations department of the Russian Armed Forces General Staff, said on Thursday.

"The Syrian government forces have ceased the fire and have started withdrawing tanks, infantry combat vehicles and artillery guns to the agreed distances thus creating conditions for setting up a demilitarized zone. The Russian and Syrian Aerospace Forces have stopped delivering air strikes in areas of possible location of opposition units," General Poznikhir said.

He also emphasized that Russia was fully compliant with its commitments on the Syrian truce. "A checkpoint on Castello Road has been equipped and handed over to the Red Crescent Society. It is protected by the Bustan and Shield militia units," Poznikhir explained.

US fails to provide data on moderate opposition

The general stressed that the American side has not yet provided the Russian military with accurate data on the exact locations and number of "moderate opposition" in Syria, which hampers the fight against militants and jeopardizes the delivery of humanitarian aid. 

"The American partners have not yet provided us with accurate information on the exact locations of opposition units. The materials handed over by the American side contain only a general list of units controlled by them. They mention neither the districts where these units are operating nor numbers or field commanders’ names," Poznikhir noted.

According to the general, this approach by the American side "not only hampers the fight against Jabhat al-Nusra irreconcilable militants, but also jeopardizes the delivery of humanitarian aid."

"We are calling on the U.S. side to step up efforts to observe the regime of cessation of hostilities in Syria," Poznikhir told a briefing at the Russian National Defense Control Center.

"Russia systematically implements its commitments taken on under the Russian-U.S. agreement," Poznikhir emphasized.

The Russian center for reconciliation has held negotiations with US partners in Washington and Geneva, marking a need for the US side to comply with its commitments within the framework of the Russian-US agreements, the head of the Russian center, Lieutenant-General Vladimir Savchenko said. 

"At 8 pm yesterday, I conducted negotiations with our American colleagues in Geneva and Washington via the restored direct communications channel," the general said. "During the negotiations I drew attention to a need for an early implementation by the US side of commitments on separating the moderate opposition from Jabhat al-Nusra (the terrorist organization outlawed in Russia) and abidance by the ceasefire regime by US controlled militant units," Savchenko said in a video conference with the Russian National Defense Center.

Besides, the US side received data on all violations of the ceasefire fixed by the Russian side, with location, time, the weapons used and areas from which the fire came, specified.

Truce violated 45 times over past 24 hours

 Lieutenant General Viktor Poznikhir went on to say that truce in Syria has been violated 45 times over the past twenty four hours, adding that in contrast with the first 24 hours of truce violations doubled.

"Worrisome is the steady growth of violations by opposition groups. Whereas on the first day there were 23 of them, and on the second day, 37, on the third day there occurred 45 violations," Poznikhir said. 

He added that on Wednesday moderate opposition bombarded residential areas in Aleppo and government forces in Latakia.

Poznikhir blamed the growing frequency of bombardments on the United States’ failure to separate the moderate opposition from the Jabhat al-Nusra group (outlawed in Russia).

"I would like to recall that a clear distinction between territories under the control of the Islamic State and Jabhat al-Nusra, on the one hand, and the moderate opposition, on the other, is a key priority of the Russian-US agreements on the resumption of the cessation of hostilities regime in Syria," Poznikhir recalled.

The current truce in Syria has been effective since September 12. In the evening of September 14 it was prolonged for another 48 hours.

Three more settlements join Syrian truce

According to the general, three more settlements have joined the reconciliation process in Syria over the past 24 hours.

"Over the past 24 hours reconciliation agreements have been signed with representatives of another three communities in Latakia province. As of today, their total number is 619 settlements," he said. 

Pullback operation

The deputy chief of Russia’s reconciliation center, Sergey Kapitsyn, reported that the Syrian army on Thursday morning began a pullback operation in the area of Aleppo in compliance with truce terms while the opposing forces have defaulted on their obligations.

The Syrian army began to pull back step by step at 09:00 in the morning.

"At 11:00 large-caliber machineguns and armored vehicles without antitank guided missiles began to be withdrawn to prepared positions 2.5 kilometers north of the road. The pullback is monitored with the use of technical means, including drones, and is registered by mass media," Kapitsyn said.

Impartial monitoring means indicate that the groups opposing the Syrian army have been doing nothing to pull back their weapons and equipment.

Lieutenant-General Vladimir Savchenko, too, said the militants were not moving either manpower of materiel from the road Castello.

"At the moment, according to impartial monitoring means, there is nothing that might look like synchronize pullback of the militants’ weapons," he said.

According to earlier reports, the Syrian army and the opposition groups must pull back away from the road Castello, which is to be used to deliver humanitarian cargoes to Aleppo. A demilitarized zone is to be created along the road. In the evening of September the Russian military warned that the situation in Aleppo put at risk the removal of troops away from the road.

Savchenko added that militants in Syria have opened fire 10 times in the Homs province and 18 times in Aleppo. The Ibn-al-Walid hospital in Damascus province has been shelled.

"The positions of government troops and people’s militia units as well as civilians have been shelled 45 times in the past 24 hours: 18 times in Aleppo province; once in highland Latakia; five times in Damascus province, including the Ibn al-Walid hospital in Damascus. Nine shelling incidents have occurred in Hama province; 12 - in Homs province, including two in the city of Homs," Savchenko said at a video conference with the Russian National Defense Control Center.

He also noted that the number of shelling incidents had kept rising in the course of Thursday. The residential areas and government troops’ positions in Aleppo have come under fire 11 times. Information on damage and casualties is being clarified," General Savchenko said.

Savchenko also reported the emergence of new trouble spots. "Ten ceasefire violations have been registered in Homs province where the situation was relatively calm in recent months," General Savchenko clarified.

Seven killed, 14 wounded

A representative of the Syrian government army reported that seven people were killed and another 14 were wounded in the Syrian Homs province.

"From 1:10 to 6 am yesterday, positions of government troops and civilians came under fire from light weapons, mortars and multiple missile-launcher systems in the area of the settlements Tesnin, Teir Maalah, Kafr Nan, Kormos, Al-Taybah al-Gharbiyah," as well as in two neighborhoods on the northern outskirts of Homs, the Syrian officer said.

"Seven people were killed, 14 were wounded," he said, stressing that Syrian military did not open return fire. "Troops subordinated to me will continue to fully comply with the instructions from the Syrian leadership on abidance by the ceasefire terms," he marked.