AIR RAIDS TAR­NISH RUS­SIA AND TURKEY’S SYRIA TRUCE

Kuwait Times - - FRONT PAGE -

Clashes, shelling and air raids in west­ern Syria marred a Rus­sian- and Turk­ish-backed cease­fire that aims to end nearly six years of war and lead to peace talks be­tween rebels and a gov­ern­ment em­bold­ened by re­cent bat­tle­field suc­cess.

Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin, a key ally of Syrian Pres­i­dent Bashar al-As­sad, an­nounced the cease­fire on Thurs­day af­ter forg­ing the agree­ment with Turkey, a long­time backer of the op­po­si­tion.

The truce went into force at mid­night but mon­i­tors and rebels re­ported almost im­me­di­ate clashes, and vi­o­lence ap­peared to es­ca­late later yes­ter­day as war­planes bombed ar­eas in the coun­try’s north­west, they said.

The cease­fire is meant as a first step to­wards fresh peace talks, af­ter sev­eral failed in­ter­na­tional ef­forts this year to halt the con­flict, which be­gan as a peace­ful up­ris­ing and de­scended into civil war in 2011. It has drawn in the mil­i­tary in­volve­ment of world and re­gional pow­ers, in­clud­ing Moscow and Ankara. The agree­ment bro­kered by Rus­sia and Turkey, which said they will guar­an­tee the truce, is the first of three cease­fire deals this year not to in­volve the United States or United Na­tions.

Moscow is keen to push ahead with peace talks, hosted by its ally Kaza­khstan, to end Syria’s con­flict which has re­sulted in more than 300,000 deaths and dis­placed more than 11 mil­lion peo­ple, half its pre-war pop­u­la­tion.

For­eign Min­is­ter Sergei Lavrov and his Kazakh coun­ter­part Kairat Ab­drakhmanov dis­cussed plans for the talks yes­ter­day, the Rus­sian min­istry said.

But the first chal­lenge will be main­tain­ing the truce, which looked in­creas­ingly shaky yes­ter­day. Syrian war­planes car­ried out at least 16 raids against rebels in the north­ern Hama coun­try­side, the Syrian Ob­ser­va­tory for Hu­man Rights said. Clashes be­tween in­sur­gents and gov­ern­ment forces and their allies took place overnight along the pro­vin­cial bound­ary be­tween Idlib and Hama, the Ob­ser­va­tory and a rebel of­fi­cial said.

Gov­ern­ment forces and their allies mean­while clashed with rebels near Da­m­as­cus, and he­li­copter gun­ships car­ried out air raids in the area, the Bri­tish-based Ob­ser­va­tory re­ported. An of­fi­cial from the Nour al-Din al-Zinki rebel group said gov­ern­ment forces had also tried to ad­vance in south­ern Aleppo prov­ince.

There was no im­me­di­ate com­ment from the Syrian mil­i­tary on clashes. A num­ber of rebel groups have signed the new agree­ment, Rus­sia’s De­fence Min­istry said on Thurs­day. Sev­eral rebel of­fi­cials ac­knowl­edged the deal, and a spokesman for the Free Syrian Army (FSA), a loose al­liance of in­sur­gent groups, said it would abide by the truce. The pre­vi­ous two Syria cease­fires, bro­kered by Cold War foes Wash­ing­ton and Moscow, took ef­fect in Fe­bru­ary and Septem­ber but both col­lapsed within weeks as war­ring sides ac­cused each other of truce vi­o­la­tions and fight­ing in­ten­si­fied.

Putin said the par­ties were pre­pared to start peace talks in­tended to take place in As­tana. Syrian state me­dia said late on Thurs­day those talks would take place “soon”.

The Syrian gov­ern­ment will be ne­go­ti­at­ing from a strong po­si­tion af­ter its army and their allies, in­clud­ing Shi’ite mili­tias sup­ported by Iran, along with Rus­sian air power, routed rebels in their last ma­jor ur­ban strong­hold of Aleppo this month.

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