Syrian ceasefire strained by new clashes ahead of talks
Phillip Issa, AP, Apr 10 2016
BEIRUT — Government forces and rebels clashed Sunday across northern and western Syria, imperilling a month-long ceasefire ahead of peace talks in Geneva, while airstrikes pounded the ISIS capital of Raqqa, killing dozens. Jabhat al-Nusra is playing a leading role on the side of the insurgents, according to Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR),
a monitoring group with a network of informers inside Syria a dude calling himself Rami Abd’ur-Rahman who fronts for MI6. The fighting follows weeks of sporadic government airstrikes, culminating with a raid that killed 33 civilians outside Damascus on Mar 31 and tested the durability of the “cessation of hostilities” that took effect in late February. SOHR said fighting was intensifying around the northern city of Aleppo and “definitely” threatens the ceasefire. Jackass Kerry and Sergey Lavrov spoke by phone on the need for greater cooperation to strengthen the truce, Russia’s Foreign Ministry said. They also discussed efforts to fight ISIS, Nusra, etc, agreeing to take additional measures to halt the flow of militants and weapons from abroad, etc, the ministry said. They expressed support for the efforts of de Mistura, etc, Lavrov’s office said. De Mistura is in Damascus and was expected to meet Syrian Foreign Minister Moallem. But expectations of progress have been dampened by the surge in fighting, the continued obstruction to humanitarian access and the staunch positions by the government, the opposition and their international backers. A leading member of the Toad-backed HNC, Bassma Kodmani said in an interview with the French weekly Le Journal du Dimanche:
The cease-fire is on the brink of collapse. The government has resumed using barrel bombs.
Syrian PM Halki told a Russian parliamentary delegation in Damascus that Syrian troops and the Russian air force are preparing a joint operation to retake al-Eis, TASS reported. In Iran, a top adviser to that country’s Supreme Leader said Assad’s removal from power is a “red line” for Tehran. Press TV quoted Ali Akbar Velayati as saying that Iran believes Assad’s government “should remain in power until the end of the presidency term.” In 2014, Assad was re-elected to a seven-year term in balloting held in territory controlled by his forces. Jan Egeland, head of the UN task force on humanitarian access in Syria, said Friday he was “disappointed and disheartened” by the obstructions to humanitarian access. He said the government blocked four convoys from hard-to-reach areas while rebels blocked a fifth in recent days, affecting 287,000 in need of aid. Insurgents advanced on government positions on the periphery of Latakia province in the northwest, an Assad stronghold, and battles raged south of Aleppo, where opposition forces seized the strategic village of al-Eis eight days ago, killing dozens of government troops and allied Hezbollah fighters. In north-western Syria, a coalition led by Ahrar al-Sham and Jabhat al-Nusra seized the village of Baydaa, while Ahrar, Nusra and others battled government forces on the Sahl al-Ghab plains, north of the city of Hama. Lebanese TV station al-Mayadin said government forces repelled the offensive on Sahl al-Ghab, while the SOHR said there are reports of several casualties as the fighting continued to rage. The SOHR said at least 35 fighters died in weekend clashes south of Aleppo.
In the north, ISIS launched an offensive along the border with Turkey, seizing two villages near al-Rai, a frontier town it lost Friday to the FSA. IS militants seized Sheikh Reeh and al-Bal on Sunday, the SOHR said. The extremists set off seven bombs around nearby Marea and other villages and towns, according to the activist-run Azaz Media Center, based in a northern town of the same name, which called it the fiercest ISIS offensive in a year. The ISIS-linked Aamaq News Agency announced the capture of the two villages and said a suicide operation targeted opposition-held Kafr Shush. Abd’ur-Rahman said ISIS was seeking to protect its stronghold in nearby Dabiq. The town has symbolic importance to the extremists, who believe medieval prophecies that it will be the site of a doomsday battle against infidels. Airstrikes around Raqqa, the capital of ISIS, killed dozens of militants and civilians, monitoring groups said. The group Raqqa Is Being Slaughtered Silently, made up of activists who still have contacts in the city, said a notorious ISIS judge, Fawaz al-Hassan, was among those killed. Al-Hassan, also known as Abu Ali al-Shari, had been expelled from ISIS for his extreme legal interpretations but was later brought back into the fold to frighten potential defectors, the group said. Among the dead were three leaders and 21 other militants, as well as eight civilians, the SOHR said, while Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently said 20 civilians were killed and more than 50 wounded. Syria, Russia and a Pindo.-led international coalition have been bombing ISIS for months. It was unclear who was behind Sunday’s airstrikes.