Syrian opposition says ceasefire on 'verge of collapsing'

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The coordinator for the Syrian opposition on Thursday said the United Nations-brokered ceasefire is on the "verge of collapsing," despite positive assessments from the U.S.  

Riyad Hijab, who heads the opposition's High Negotiations Committee, said in a statement the ceasefire is on the "verge of collapsing if there are not international interventions of a responsible nature to put an end to the violence, which has not stopped since the announcement of the truce." 

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Hijab said since the ceasefire began last weekend, Russian and Syrian regime forces, as well as allied militias, have launched attacks to gain new territory and continue to target inhabited areas with aerial bombardment, mortar fire, barrel bombs, cluster munitions, rockets and heavy machine guns. 

"As a result of that barbarous bombardment, there is the destruction of hospitals and places of worship with over 100 breaches of the truce having been conducted in the past days and over 40 killed and 92 injured including women and children," said Hijab's statement, which was translated from Arabic into English.  

That assessment contrasts with those from the administration who said the ceasefire is "generally holding.” 

“It generally does appear to be holding. And that is an encouraging sign, continues to be encouraging,” State Department Press Secretary John Kirby said on Thursday.

During a White House background briefing on Wednesday, senior administration officials sought to lower expectations. 

"I think it’s clear the number of Russian airstrikes has diminished very significantly," a senior administration official said. “I think it’s fair to say it’s going a better than a number of us expected at this point.”

Officials said they have raised suspected violations with the regime and Russia, and are seeing "some responsiveness."

"We are seeing some responsiveness, which is the reason we are continuing down this path...We are seeing some answers, not always the answers we would be optimal and we are going to keep at it," the official said. 

Kirby said the U.S. is taking violations seriously, but would refrain from "tallying them up or pointing a finger." 

"There's a process in place for them to be reviewed and evaluated. We need to let that process work its way out, and I just don't think that it would be helpful to that process or to the ultimate goals for us to get into a daily tick-tock of each and every one," he said. 

A U.S. military commander said earlier this month his forces had no “specific role or guidance” to track violations, but that they would be able to tell who the Russians are targeting. 

"We actually kind of pay attention to what the Russians are doing on a regular basis through intel means," said Lt. Gen. Charles Q. Brown, commander, U.S. Air Forces Central Command, at a briefing on Feb. 18. "So, through intel means, we'll be able to tell, you know, where they're flying, where they might be employing ordnance and have a pretty, you know, at least an idea," he said.  

Although officials said the ceasefire is a "test of whether Russia is being true to what it said," they said there would be no final report on violations by March 9, when peace talks are set to resume. 

Hijab criticized the lack of international condemnation of the alleged breaches, and said the ceasefire was not meeting its original purpose of getting humanitarian aid to all of the areas under siege. 

"Aid convoys are stopped at regime check points for long periods on the excuse of searching them under the eyes of the world and Syrians are still dying daily from hunger and lack of supplies," Hijab said.

Hijab also expressed doubt over the Syrian regime's seriousness to resume peace talks in six days in Geneva, adding that Russia, Iran and their allies are instead preparing for a new round of violence. 

"We see the regimes allies gathering more foreign troops and we are documenting a flood of heavy weaponry, mortars and tanks coming to different fronts. We will publish important information about the sectarian formation of mercenaries who are being recruited in Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq and Lebanon, to launch widespread attacks in the coming days," Hijab said. 

Jordan Fabian contributed.