ADDS ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL COMMENTS ON HUMANITARIAN AID
By Michael Hernandez
WASHINGTON (AA) – A nationwide cease-fire in Syria is largely preventing the wide-scale violence previously experienced in the country, the State Department said Tuesday.
“We have seen, as I said, some reports of sporadic violence, but thus far, the arrangement as a whole seems to be holding and the violence is lower in comparison to previous days and weeks,” spokesman Mark Toner told reporters.
The U.S. is assessing reports of violations to determine who is responsible, Toner said.
If the lull in violence continues for seven consecutive days and if humanitarian access is sustained during that span, the U.S. and Russia “would begin coordinating with Russia on airstrikes specifically targeting Nusra in a strategic, very calculated way,” Toner said.
The group recently rebranded itself Jabhat Fateh al-Sham.
Toner was uncertain on how long it would take to make the Joint Implementation Center operational.
At that point, Syrian warplanes would also be restricted from flying in an area agreed upon by Moscow and Washington.
Still, Toner stressed that the U.S. reserves the right "to say we're setting the clock back to zero" if there are credible claims of violations.
"We also reserve the right if this goes on and on and on to a point where we believe it's no longer in anyone's interest to continue this, to simply walk away and say the agreement is null and void," he added.
Regarding the flow of humanitarian aid, a senior administration official who was speaking to reporters on condition of anonymity because he wasn't authorized to speak publicly said that aid is "lagging behind for a number of technical reasons and also because we still want to make sure that the Syrian regime gives all the approvals that the UN needs for internal delivery."
"We spent much of the day pressing not just the Russians and through the Russians the regime, but also some of the opposition parties, to make sure that we can get the kind of unfettered humanitarian access that our agreement with the Russians calls for," he said.
Syrian government and "Kurdish forces" are still present on the Castello Road, he said. The road has been a flashpoint in fighting between forces allied with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and rebel groups.
It is also a prime delivery route for direly needed aid to reach some besieged areas in eastern Aleppo.
"There’s some work that we’re trying to clarify with the Russians and obviously through the Russians with the regime and with the opposition forces in eastern Aleppo to make sure that there be no threat to the convoys and they could go through unhindered," the official said. "Hopefully, that could be resolved very quickly."
And as "Kurdish forces" are party to the cessation "they should not be attacked or attack other parties to the cessation," the official said.