Syria's main opposition group has signaled conditional readiness to attend a new round of UN-sponsored peace talks in Geneva from next weekend. Syria's partial ceasefire has surprised many by entering its second week.
High Negotiations Committee (HNC) spokesman Riad Naasan Agha told the news agency AFP that the opposition had noticed a "sharp decline" in ceasefire violations as well as progress in humanitarian deliveries to besieged towns.
The UN World Food Program said a 22-truck aid convoy was heading Monday to Eastern Ghouta, an area east of Damascus, to distribute food, flour and medical supplies, amid a nine-day truce that has defied pessimists.
"After consultations, the HNC agreed to go to Geneva. The delegation is expected to arrive on Friday," said Agha, speaking for the Riyadh-based grouping, which last month held off from committing toUN-sponsored talks in Geneva.
"We started to notice that the volume of violations has started to reduce in the last two days… If these violations end this will create the favorable environment for the start of negotiations," he added.
He was contradicted, however, by another spokesman Riad Hijad, who said the HNC would decide later this week whether to attend.
As obstacles, Hijab said aid flows to besieged areas were too small while adding that Assad's regime had failed to release detainees.
Geneva talks start on March 14?
Syria's ceasefire, which does not apply toextremists of the "Islamic State" group
or the al-Qaeda-affiliated al-Nusra Front, has mostly held since February 27.
The talks - called in the lead-up to the ceasefire - had been due to start of March 7.
AFP reported Monday that it had been told by a Syrian state source that President Bashar al-Assad administration had been invited to a new round of peace talks "starting March 14 in Geneva."
The UN's envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura had said previously that the new talks would begin on Thursday.
'Calmest' day in truce
The Britain-based Observatory for Human Rights said Sunday had been the "calmest" since the ceasefire began.
On Monday, hardline Islamic militants had shelled Aleppo's Kurdish Sheikh Maqsood neighborhood, killing at least nine civilians.
The ceasefire, arranged between Russia and the US, although on opposing sides of the conflict, marks the biggest diplomatic effort yet to resolve Syria's five-year war.
Moscow on Monday said the truce was still "in general" holding apart from unspecified "isolated provocations and shelling."
In a telephone call on Sunday, US Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov welcomed the "sharp decline in violence."
The two had also warned against "any delay in starting the [negotiations] process," said Russia's foreign ministry.
IS and al-Nusra still targeted
Russian warplanes were continuing to strike IS and al-Nusra in three provinces, including the main IS stronghold of Raqqa, Moscow said.
The US-led Combined Joint Task Force said it had conducted 18 air strikes against IS across parts of Iraq and Syria on Sunday, hitting what it called "tactical units."
The Britain-based Observatory said one Russian airstrike had taken place at Abu al-Duhur, an area partially controlled by al-Nursa in Syria's northwestern Idlib province. At least seven people had been killed, it said.
Russia's defense ministry said Monday it was "ready" to open up its leased port facility at Tartus as well as its Hmeimim airbase in Syria's Mediterranean coastal regionn so "international and foreign organizations" could unload and transport aid into Syria.
Biden: 'Political settlement' needed
Beginning a Middle East tour in the United Arab Emirates on Monday, US Vice President Joe Biden used an Arab acronym for IS and said that America would "squeeze the heart out of Daesh in Iraq and Syria."
He ruled out a military solution in Syria, saying instead "we have to keep trying to reach a political settlement."
A key sticking point in any talks will be the future of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Syria's opposition want his departure. Moscow backs Assad.
ipj/jil (AFP, dpa, Reuters, AP)