BEIRUT The city council for rebel-held Aleppo on Tuesday rejected any Russian deployment along a road expected to be used to deliver humanitarian aid to the city, saying that it and not the Syrian government must be the party that oversees receipt of the aid.
Aleppo, a city divided into separate zones controlled by the government and rebels, is expected to receive aid as part of a U.S.-Russian agreement that includes a ceasefire that took effect on Monday evening.
Russia is a major backer of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and has warplanes and troops in the country, while the United States supports some of the rebel groups fighting to topple him.
Brita Hagi Hassan, president of the city council for opposition-held Aleppo, told Reuters he had received an aid delivery plan but that it did not contain details of how the operation would proceed.
"The presence of the Russian side on the Castello Road is not acceptable due to its lack of neutrality," Hassan said, speaking from Syria via the internet. The Castello Road is the government-controlled road expected to be used for deliveries.
He also said that the party supervising the road must not open the shipments, and that they should include fuel, medicines, and flour.
Russia's Interfax news agency said on Tuesday a Russian mobile observation checkpoint had been deployed on the Castello road.
In a videolink briefing from Aleppo on Monday, deputy head of the Russian reconciliation center in Syria Sergei Kapitsyn said the Castello Road is currently controlled by pro-government forces, but will become a demilitarized zone for the delivery of aid.
Kapitsyn also said the Syrian Arab Red Crescent was building a checkpoint on the Castello Road to oversee the passage of aid to eastern and western parts of the city.
"To create a demilitarized zone, pro-government troops are preparing to withdraw from the Castello road to the distance laid down in the Russian-American agreement, simultaneously with the moderate opposition," Kapitsyn said.
Aid delivery throughout the five-year Syrian conflict has been fraught with difficulties as both sides accuse the other of obstructing deliveries to further their military and political goals.
The U.N., which is legally obliged to coordinate with Damascus, has repeatedly criticised the Syrian government for restricting access, especially to besieged areas, and for removing vital items from convoys.
The Syrian government said earlier on Tuesday it would reject any aid deliveries to Aleppo that are not coordinated through itself and the United Nations, particularly aid from Turkey.
(Reporting by Tom Perry and Lisa Barrington in Beirut and Gleb Stolyarov and Vladimir Soldatkin in Moscow.)