NEWS

Fragile Ceasefire In Syria Is Threatened As Rebels And Government Accuse Each Other Of Violating Truce

The ceasefire is mostly holding, as Russia calls on United Nations to back the deal.

01/01/2017 12:55 SAST | Updated 01/01/2017 14:02 SAST
REUTERS/Bassam Khabieh
A man rides a bicycle near damaged buildings in the rebel held besieged city of Douma, in the eastern Damascus suburb of Ghouta, Syria December 30, 2016.

Syrian government warplanes carried out several air strikes and low-level clashes persisted in some areas on Sunday, but a Russian and Turkish-backed ceasefire largely held in other areas on its third day, a monitoring group and rebels said.

Jets bombed the villages of Kafr Kar, Mintar and around the town of Banan in the southern Aleppo countryside, the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

Government forces also advanced overnight against rebels in the Eastern Ghouta area near Damascus, seizing 10 farms close to the town of Douma, the monitor added.

But other areas were quiet, and opposition groups did not follow through on threats made on Saturday to abandon the truce altogether, raising hopes for an end to almost six years of fighting.

Mohammed Rasheed, a spokesman for the Jaish al-Nasr rebel group operating mostly in western province Hama, said the area was mostly calm. There were low-level clashes in Wadi Barada near Damascus but government forces and their allies had stopped carrying out air strikes and shelling, he said.

The rebels warned on Saturday they would abandon the truce if government truce violations persisted, giving an 8pm deadline for attacks in Wadi Barada to stop. The shelling and air raids ceased by that time, rebels said.

On Saturday, Syrian rebel groups said they would consider a ceasefire deal brokered by Russia and Turkey "null and void" if the Damascus government's forces and their allies continued to violate it.

Russia, which supports Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, has urged the United Nations to give its blessing to the fragile ceasefire, the third truce this year seeking to end nearly six years of war in Syria.

Clashes and air strikes have persisted in some areas since the ceasefire began on Friday, though the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a monitoring group, said on Saturday the truce was still largely holding.

"Continued violations by the regime and bombardment and attempts to attack areas under the control of the revolutionary factions will make the agreement null and void," a statement signed by a number of rebel groups said.

The statement said government forces and their allies including Lebanese Hezbollah had been trying to press advances, particularly in an area northwest of Damascus in the rebel-held Wadi Barada valley.

The Observatory, which is based in Britain, said government forces and the rebels had clashed on Saturday in Wadi Barada.

Rebels say the army is seeking to recapture the area, where a major spring provides most of Damascus's water supplies. Several people were killed in violence there on Friday, the Observatory said.

Blasts from government shellfire were also heard in the southern provinces of Quneitra and Deraa, the Observatory said.

Each side blames the other for continued unrest. Russia's defence ministry said on Friday rebels had violated the truce 12 times in 24 hours.

Russia and Turkey, which backs the armed opposition to Assad, brokered the ceasefire agreement in the hope of preparing the way for peace talks in Kazakhstan in the new year.

In their statement, the rebels said it appeared the government and the opposition had signed two different versions of the ceasefire deal, one of which was missing "a number of key and essential points that are non-negotiable", but did not say what those were.

There has been confusion over which groups in the opposition are included in the ceasefire. Islamic State, which has made enemies of all sides in the conflict, is not included.

The Syrian army said on Thursday the militant group formerly known as the Nusra Front was not part of the truce. However, several rebel officials said the group, which has been renamed Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, was also included in the ceasefire deal.