Cracks in Syr­ian cease­fire

New talks launched

The Star Early Edition - - WORLD -

THE UN launched new Syr­ian peace talks in Geneva yes­ter­day just as the first cracks ap­peared in a re­gional cease­fire that came into ef­fect at the weekend.

The truce in the south-west of the coun­try was bro­kered by the US, which backs armed rebels, and Rus­sia, which pro­vides military sup­port to Pres­i­dent Bashar al-As­sad’s troops.

Sim­i­lar agree­ments have been reached in the past with the aim of cre­at­ing the right set­ting for peace talks in Geneva, but none lasted long.

Since the begin­ning of the cease­fire on Sun­day shells have fallen on the city of Daraa and some clashes were reg­is­tered in the area, al­though there were no ca­su­al­ties, ac­cord­ing to the Bri­tain-based Syr­ian Ob­ser­va­tory for Hu­man Rights.

The watch­dog added that some shells also fell in the eastern coun­try­side of the Daraa Gov­er­norate, wound­ing one per­son.

Is­sam al-Rayess, who heads the south­ern front for the Free Syr­ian Army, said that there had been many breaches of the cease­fire, in­clud­ing one that killed six of his rebel fight­ers in the Sweida re­gion.

“The Syr­ian army at dawn to­day launched an at­tack on ar­eas manned by the Free Syr­ian Army – not as they claimed against the Is­lamic State,” he told dpa from Geneva.

At the Swiss UN seat, UN me­di­a­tor Staffan de Mis­tura started the new ne­go­ti­a­tions by meet­ing rep­re­sen­ta­tives of the Syr­ian gov­ern­ment, ac­cord­ing to a UN spokesman.

Pre­vi­ous rounds in­volv­ing As­sad’s gov­ern­ment and the op­po­si­tion have not yielded any tan­gi­ble re­sults, as the par­ties could not even agree to sit at the same ta­ble.

As De Mis­tura started a new week of shut­tle diplo­macy be­tween the two sides, the par­tial cease­fire that started on Sun­day of­fered at least a glimpse of hope.

The deal cov­ers the prov­inces of Daraa, Sweida and Quneitra, which have been the scene of fight­ing be­tween gov­ern­ment forces and rebels in re­cent weeks.

De­tails of the truce have not been made pub­lic, but the Syr­ian Ob­ser­va­tory for Hu­man Rights has said the pact fore­sees aid de­liv­er­ies and sets the scene for grad­ual repa­tri­a­tion of refugees from neigh­bour­ing Jor­dan.

Ahmed Ra­madan, the spokesper­son of the op­po­si­tion Syr­ian Na­tional Coali­tion, told dpa that his del­e­ga­tion would hand De Mis­tura a mem­o­ran­dum dis­cussing the fate of Syr­ian refugees in Le­banon’s Ar­sal area.

The op­po­si­tion is ac­cus­ing the Le­banese army of try­ing to dis­place Syr­ian refugees on the premise of fight­ing ter­ror­ists.

Dur­ing a Le­banese army raid in a refugee camp last week, five sui­cide bombers blew them­selves up, wound­ing seven troops and killing a tod­dler.

Le­banese Pres­i­dent Michel Aoun has warned that Syr­ian refugee camps are turn­ing into safe havens for mil­i­tants.

PIC­TURE: AAMAQ NEWS AGENCY VIA AP

In this un­dated frame grab from a video posted on­line on May 29 by the Aamaq News Agency, a me­dia arm of the Is­lamic State group, peo­ple in­spect dam­age from airstrikes and ar­tillery shelling in the north­ern city of Raqqa, Syria.

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