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UN says Syrian government is violating U.S.-Russia agreement by blocking aid to Aleppo

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, left, and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov shake hands at the conclusion of a news conference following their meeting to discuss the Syria crisis, in Geneva, Switzerland, Sept. 9, 2016. CREDIT: Kevin Lamarque/Pool Photo via AP, File
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, left, and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov shake hands at the conclusion of a news conference following their meeting to discuss the Syria crisis, in Geneva, Switzerland, Sept. 9, 2016. CREDIT: Kevin Lamarque/Pool Photo via AP, File

Part of the U.S.-Russian brokered ceasefire in Syria, which began on Monday, is to stop fighting so that aid can be delivered to besieged areas. But the U.N. says Syria’s government is not granting the appropriate permission to their envoys to enter certain besieged areas.

Staffan de Mistura, the U.N. special envoy to Syria, said on Thursday that the Syrian government’s failure to provide them the appropriate permissions were “deeply regrettable.” He said that the Syrian regime is blocking aid to eastern Aleppo, Syria’s largest city (which Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson has surely heard of by now.) Under the U.S.-Russian agreement, trucks should be allowed to travel to eastern Aleppo to deliver aid, and special permission is not necessary from the Syrian government, but the government placed obstacles in their way.

“The [aid] trucks are ready and sealed, and the agreement is that once they move they will not be harassed and they will not be investigated and they will be moving along that road,” De Mistura said.

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De Mistura’s remarks join a slew of accusations from Russia and the United States of ceasefire violations, less than a week after agreeing on terms to stop the fighting.

Syria’s civil war is now in its sixth year and reports of the dead, while hard to pinpoint, are estimated to be at more than 430,000. Russia and Syria have repeatedly killed civilians in their bombing campaigns, claiming they are attacking terrorists. Nevertheless, the United States, who backs certain rebel groups in the country, reached an agreement with Russia last Monday to convince the regime and the rebels to temporarily stop fighting. If the ceasefire holds for more than a week, the United States and Russia are supposed to set up a joint command center where they will launch operations against ISIS.

Since Monday, Russia has claimed it is meeting its obligations and pointed the finger at American-backed rebel forces, who it claims are increasing attacks on civilian neighborhoods. The United States, meanwhile, said it has seen violations across the board.

“We’ve seen violations by both sides,” U.S. State Department spokesman Mark Toner said on Wednesday. “We’re continuing to monitor this very closely.

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The Russians were less balanced in their criticisms. “From the first minute Russia’s been meeting its obligations to enforce the cessation of hostilities in Syria,” the Russian defense ministry said in a statement. “At the same time we’re puzzled by the statements made by various representatives of the U.S. State Department and the Pentagon about the prospects of Russia fulfilling the agreements reached on Syria.”

“Moreover, it seems that the goal of Washington’s ‘verbal veil’ is the intention to hide non-compliance with its part of the obligations. First of all, on the separation of forces of ‘moderate opposition’ and terrorists.”

Russia claimed it killed 250 ISIS militants during the ceasefire in an attack that, if true, would not be a violation. One of the stipulations of the U.S.-Russian agreement was that ISIS and the Nusra Front (now called Jabhat Fateh ash-Sham) are still fair game.

But despite all the issues at hand, De Mistura said the U.S.-Russian agreement has decreased violence and is largely holding. It “is and remains a potential game-changer,” he said.

Activists seem to agree with De Mistura.

“We are still optimistic this will happen, but no one knows,” an activist with the opposition-aligned group Aleppo Media Center, told CNN. “But so far it’s been the best days seen since five-plus years ago. This is something promising. We shall wait and see what happens.”

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While there is some positive news on the ground in Syria for the Syrian people, the same might not be said for neighboring Jordan — where 700,000 Syrian refugees are registered (officials say with unregistered refugees that figure passes one million).

Jordan initially accepted many refugees from Syria, but eventually started to accept less and less as it felt pressure on and from its population of 6.5 million. As the Jordanians stopped the influx of refugees, many have gotten caught in a “no-man’s land” between Syria and Jordan. Amnesty International reports 75,000 Syrian refugees are trapped in this area, known as the “berm,” and satellite images and video footage reveal “makeshift grave sites and burial mounds” for a group of people “who have been virtually cut off from humanitarian aid for two months.”

“The situation at the berm offers a grim snapshot of the consequences of the world’s abject failure to share responsibility for the global refugee crisis. The knock on effect of this failure has seen many of Syria’s neighbors close their borders to refugees,” Tirana Hassan, Crisis Response Director at Amnesty International, said in the report.

“It’s a desperate picture for people trapped at the berm, food is running out and disease is rife. In some cases people are suffering or even dying from preventable illnesses, simply because they are not allowed into Jordan and the authorities have blocked access for aid, medical treatment and a meaningful humanitarian response.”