Rebel says Aleppo due to get aid Friday, but has little hope it will

BEIRUT (Reuters) - Humanitarian aid is due to be delivered to Aleppo on Friday following a withdrawal of combatants from a contested road leading to the city on Thursday, a Syrian rebel official said. "Today the withdrawal is supposed to happen, with aid entering tomorrow. This is what is supposed to happen, but there is nothing to give hope," Zakaria Malahifji, of the Aleppo-based rebel group Fastaqim, told Reuters. The delivery is part of a U.S.-Russian agreement that includes a ceasefire that took effect on Monday. The army and rebels have accused each other of numerous violations, though the overall level of violence has reduced. Russia, said on Wednesday it was preparing for the Syrian army and rebel fighters to begin a staged withdrawal from the Castello road. But neither side had started its withdrawal on Thursday morning. There was no comment from state media or the army about the proposed withdrawal. Malahifji, Fastaqim's political officer, said rebels were prepared to withdraw but were worried that the other side would take advantage of such a move. "There is great fear because the regime exploits every opportunity," he said. Government forces seized control of a section of the Castello Road in July, part of its effort to fully encircle the opposition-held eastern half of Aleppo. "If the regime withdraws 500 meters, east and west (of the road) ... then the guys will be able to withdraw a bit," Malahifji said. "But the regime is not responding. The guys can see its positions in front of them." A Syrian military source said on Wednesday that armed groups had violated the ceasefire 15 times in the Aleppo area in a 24-hour period. (Reporting by Tom Perry; Editing by Robin Pomeroy)