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Russia, US shore up Syria ceasefire

The Syrian army has extended a truce around the besieged city of Aleppo. Moscow and Washington have vowed to extend their efforts to see a ceasefire implemented across the whole country.

The United States and Russia promised to "redouble" efforts to end the Syrian Civil War on Monday as a truce around the key city of Aleppo was extended for 48 hours. The two powers agreed to help implement a February 27 ceasefire plan for the entire country.

"The Russian Federation and United States are determined to redouble efforts to reach a political settlement of the Syrian conflict," read a joint statement published by the Foreign Ministry in Moscow.

The Kremlin and the White House added that they were happy to report some "progress" in de-escalating the conflict, but were encountering "difficulties" in ending the fighting in some areas, as well as delivering humanitarian aid to regions beleaguered by battle.

To ensure that aid is distributed as quickly as possible, Russia said it would "work with the Syrian authorities to minimise aviation operations over areas that are predominantly inhabited by civilians" or parties to the ceasefire agreement, which does not include Islamist rebels such as "Islamic State" (IS) jihadists.

For its part, Washington said it would aid stability by increasing its assistance to its allies in the region, "to help them prevent the flow of fighters, weapons or financial support to terrorist organizations across their borders".

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A sign of hope in Syria

Long road to Geneva

German foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier praised the initiative as an "encouraging signal" which might help bring the warring parties back to the negotiating table in Geneva.

International observers would monitor Syria in the coming days, according to Steinmeier, and note "whether the agreement between Moscow and Washington really changes and improves the situation on the ground."

Steinmeier addressed reporters in Paris, where he traveled to discuss Syria with representatives from the US, the UK, Saudi Arabia, and several other countries.

The German foreign minister also announced a meeting with the Syrian opposition in Vienna next week. If the truce does take hold, "we would definitely encourage the opposition to start heading back to the talks in Geneva," he said.

Steinmeier is set to meet with the US Secretary of State John Kerry on Tuesday.

A respite for embattled Aleppo

Aleppo, once Syria's second city and an important commercial hub, has seen 300 people killed in an uptick in violence plaguing the town since late April. The command of the army of President Bashar al-Assad initially announced the temporary cessation of hostilities to last until Tuesday, but this was later extended until midnight on Wednesday.

Rebels have yet to confirm the truce. According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, anti-Assad fighters fired rockets into a government-held area of Aleppo on Sunday, killing five civilians including two children.

The five-year conflict has killed over 270,000 people and turn millions into refugees. The full implementation of the February plan, agreed to at UN-brokered talks in Geneva, has been hampered by an umbrella group for moderate rebels leaving the negotiations over what they see as concessions to President Assad.

es/bw (AFP, dpa)

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