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A CNN team gained exclusive access to rebel-held territory around Aleppo, Syria
CNN's Clarissa Ward was on the ground when "cessation of hostilities" came into effect
There has been a dramatic decrease in airstrikes around Syria’s rebel-held territory since a truce negotiated between Syrian rebels and the government went into effect.
But on the ground, where CNN has had rare access over the past week, few are celebrating, with many residents suspecting a trick, and some claiming the “cessation in hostilities” is a betrayal of those who have given their lives in the uprising.
CNN senior international correspondent Clarissa Ward traveled to rebel-held territory around Aleppo days ahead of the agreed break in fighting to witness the impact it had once it was implemented Friday.
She is virtually the only Western journalist to have gone to the area – heavily bombarded in recent months by Russian airstrikes in support of pro-regime forces – in more than a year.
The cessation of hostilities between a handful of rebel groups and the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad began Friday, excluding terrorist groups such as ISIS and al Nusra Front.
Aleppo on the first day of the ceasefire
But the truce has not seen the airstrikes stop completely. When Ward’s team visited the town of Darat Izza on Aleppo’s outskirts, locals said there had been an airstrike on a house about 30 hours after the truce went into effect.
And while Ward said the number of airstrikes has slowed dramatically since the cessation of hostilities began, residents are far from optimistic.
“Firstly, in the run-up to this cessation of hostilities there was a dramatic increase in the intensiveness … of Russian aerial bombardment and also of the regime warplanes of Bashar al-Assad,” she said, adding she had witnessed a Russian airstrike on a market that killed at least eight people days before the truce.
“Secondly, the people living in rebel territory don’t trust the Assad regime and see this cessation of hostilities as a trick designed so that the regime can take more territory,” she said.
“For that reason, many people we’ve spoken to are in fact actually against the ceasefire.”
Russian state-run media reported that six attacks on Damascus after the partial truce took effect originated from areas held by the Syrian opposition fighters.
Meanwhile, an international group monitoring the conflict said warplanes had continued their strikes.
The London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said strikes had targeted the southern countryside of Hama, an area near Raqqa – the de facto capital of ISIS – and the Aleppo region.
The group said 183 people – including 89 ISIS fighters – had been killed on Saturday alone.
Protesters see ‘a betrayal’
A few days ago, the CNN team attended a protest where people carried signs reading, “The ceasefire is a betrayal of our martyrs.”
The demonstrators chanted over and over again “we must keep on fighting” and “we must unite,” Ward said.
Even the local imam, or Muslim cleric, used his weekly sermon to urge his followers not to observe the cessation in hostilities and to keep fighting.
“I think what this really highlights (is) the fundamental disconnect that exists between the people who are fighting and dying here on the ground and the people who are brokering deals overseas,” Ward said.
Russian airstrikes blamed
The residents of rebel-held territory around Aleppo are not the only ones expressing skepticism over the truce.
A main Syrian opposition group, the High Negotiations Committee, said 97 of its factions agreed to respect the two-week truce that starts with the cessation of hostilities. But it warned the Syrian government and Russia not to target it under the pretense of attacking terrorist groups.
Aleppo photographer watches city die
Salem Meslet, a spokesman for the High Negotiations Committee, told CNN’s Nic Robertson that the Syrian regime had committed 15 violations of the cessation of hostilities agreement.
He blamed the airstrikes in Aleppo on Russian warplanes. The areas that were targeted do not have ISIS or an al Nusra presence, he said.
“We worry (Assad) will increase the violations if no one says anything to him,” Meslet said.
The High Negotiations Committee is sending letters detailing the alleged violations to the United Nations and all the members of the International Syria Support Group – except for Russia and Iran.
Opposition cites ‘repeated violations’
The committee’s letter to the U.N. Security Council urges it to intervene immediately after “repeated violations by the regimes and its allies.”
“We have agreed to the temporary truce as a response to sincere international efforts aiming to ease the suffering of the Syrian people and to assist in the implementation of the humanitarian provisions of UNSCR 2254, in particular: articles 12, 13 and 14.
“Failure to achieve any significant progress in this regard will leave us no option but to examine alternative measures to ensure the protection of the Syrian people and bring an end to the crimes committed against them,” the letter warns.
Russian state media said that the country halted airstrikes in certain parts of Syria in accordance with the cessation of hostilities agreement.
In a statement, Russia’s Foreign Ministry said that U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and his Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov, had welcomed the cessation of hostilities during a phone call Sunday.
Kerry and Lavrov discussed the full implementation of the agreement and reiterated the importance of close cooperation between Russia and the United States as co-chairs of the International Syria Support Group, the ministry said.
Thousands may be starving
Meanwhile, U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’Ad Al Hussein spoke out Monday against sieges of towns and cities in Syria.
“The deliberate starvation of people is unequivocally forbidden as a weapon of warfare. By extension, so are sieges, which deprive civilians of essential goods such as food,” Hussein said in a statement. “And yet over 450,000 people are currently trapped in besieged towns and villages in Syria – and have been, in some cases, for years.
“Food, medicine and other desperately needed humanitarian aid is repeatedly obstructed. Thousands of people may have starved to death.”
CNN’s Radina Gigova and Tim Hume contributed to this report.