Russia is seeking the closure of the Turkish-Syrian border, claiming that convoys entering Syria from neighboring Turkey have supplied rebel groups with weapons as a fragile truce between government troops and opposition forces is taking hold despite reports of some violations.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told the UN Human Rights Council on Tuesday that “gangs have received arms across this border, including from humanitarian convoys.”
Lavrov said the border is being used as a channel to supply weapons to groups he described as terrorists, with some arms hidden in humanitarian aid deliveries.
Russia, a staunch backer of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, is at odds with Turkey over its military intervention in Syria. Relations have been tense since Turkey shot down a Russian warplane in late November last year.
Ankara denies such allegations. Earlier, Lavrov told the conference on disarmament that information showed “terrorist groups” have the technical specifications and facilities needed to make chemical weapons and have hired specialists with knowledge of how to create these weapons.
Russia and the United States last week pushed through a “cessation of hostilities” accord in Syria. Officials say it has largely eased the violence since taking effect on Saturday.
On Tuesday, Syrian President Assad described the cessation of hostilities in force since Saturday as a “glimmer of hope” and accused the opposition of violating the agreement intended to halt nearly five years of fighting.
The opposition has in turn accused the Syrian government of breaching the fragile truce by repeatedly attacking its positions, which the government denies.
International observers have acknowledged violations of the agreement while stressing that the level of violence has decreased considerably.
“We will play our part to make the whole thing work,” Assad was quoted as saying in an extract of an interview with Germany’s ARD television network.
The president said the Syrian army had not reacted to truce violations in order to give the agreement a chance.
“The terrorists have breached the deal from the first day. We as the Syrian Army are refraining from responding in order to give a chance to sustain the agreement. But in the end there are limits and it all depends on the other side,” Assad said.
He also said people in Syria were suffering from a “humanitarian disaster.”
The war has killed at least 250,000 people and forced millions to flee their homes. The United Nations hopes the cessation of hostilities will allow it to deliver aid to more than 150,000 people in besieged areas of Syria.
The cessation of hostilities agreement, drawn up by the United States and Russia, is also seen by the United Nations as an opportunity to revive peace talks, which collapsed before they had even started a month ago in Geneva.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov said there was an urgent need to implement the agreement and for the warring parties to return to the negotiating table, a UN statement said.
“They agreed on the importance of urgently moving forward simultaneously on implementing the cessation of hostilities agreement, providing vital humanitarian assistance to civilians, and returning to political negotiations,” the statement said.
US Secretary of State John Kerry said on Monday that while efforts were being made to track down alleged violations of the cessation of hostilities, there was currently no evidence to suggest they would destabilize the fragile peace.
The agreement does not include the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and the al-Nusra Front, and Assad and his Russian backers have made clear they intend to keep attacking the jihadist groups.
The Saudi-backed “moderate” opposition says that because some of their fighters are located in areas alongside Nusra, they fear being targeted, too.
The Russian Defense Ministry said it was refraining from striking areas in Syria where the “moderate opposition” was respecting the cease-fire agreement, Interfax news agency reported.
A total of 15 cease-fire violations have been registered in Syria in the past 24 hours, Interfax quoted the Russian military as saying.
The Syrian military denied it was responsible for any violations and said “terrorist groups,” the term it uses to describe its enemies, were to blame. Operations against ISIL and the Nusra Front were going ahead.
“The combat operations that the Syrian Arab Army is carrying out against Daesh [ISIL] and Nusra are continuing according to the plans of the military command,” a Syrian military source said.
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