Airstrikes es­ca­late de­spite cease-fire

The Reporter (Lansdale, PA) - - LOCAL NEWS - By Philip Issa and Jamey Keaten

The U.N. en­voy for Syria said Thurs­day that a cease-fire in Syria was “largely hold­ing with some ex­cep­tions,” as op­po­si­tion ac­tivists re­ported a mount­ing num­ber of gov­ern­ment airstrikes, in­clud­ing a raid in the north­ern Aleppo prov­ince that killed at least six civil­ians.

Speak­ing to re­porters in Geneva, Staffan de Mis­tura said he was con­cerned that fight­ing north­west of Da­m­as­cus that has cut off the cap­i­tal’s clean wa­ter sup­ply would fur­ther es­ca­late and de­rail pro­posed ne­go­ti­a­tions be­tween the gov­ern­ment and the op­po­si­tion in As­tana, Kaza­khstan, later this month.

The talks are spon­sored by Rus­sia and Turkey, which sup­port op­pos­ing sides of the Syr­ian civil war. But the sta­tus of the meet­ing, planned for Jan. 23, is not clear. Rebels say the gov­ern­ment’s con­tin­ued cam­paign for the Barada Val­ley, the cap­i­tal’s main source of wa­ter, has cast the talks in doubt.

The U.N. says the cap­i­tal has suf­fered from a wa­ter short­age af­fect­ing 5.5 mil­lion con­sumers since De­cem­ber 22.

De Mis­tura, on Thurs­day, said five vil­lages in the Wadi Barada area have reached an “ar­range­ment” with the gov­ern­ment, but two vil­lages, in­clud­ing one which holds the source of wa­ter, al-Fi­jeh, have not.

“There is a dan­ger, a sub­stan­tial dan­ger, im­mi­nent dan­ger, that this may de­velop into a fur­ther mil­i­tary es­ca­la­tion,” fur­ther im­per­il­ing the wa­ter sup­ply, he said.

He also said the cease­fire, which came into ef­fect Dec. 30, should widen hu­man­i­tar­ian ac­cess to be­sieged ar­eas, but that “un­for­tu­nately, that is not the case.”

The op­po­si­tion-run Syr­ian Civil De­fense, a search and res­cue group also known as the White Hel­mets, said its work­ers pulled the bod­ies of three chil­dren and three adults from the rub­ble of an airstrike on the vil­lage of Babka in the op­po­si­tion­held coun­try­side west of the once-con­tested city of Aleppo.

It was not clear who was be­hind the raid and oth­ers like it in the Aleppo coun­try­side. Syr­ian and Rus­sian air­craft reg­u­larly bombed the prov­ince be­fore the cease-fire went into ef­fect. The U.S. is be­lieved to be be­hind a se­ries of strikes in the neigh­bor­ing Idlib prov­ince that ac­tivists say have killed sev­eral Al-Qaida-linked mil­i­tants.

The Bri­tain-based Syr­ian Ob­ser­va­tory for Hu­man Rights re­ported four chil­dren among the dead.

The raid fol­lowed a day of strikes on two op­po­si­tion pock­ets out­side the cap­i­tal, Da­m­as­cus.

LAU­RENT GILLIERON — KEY­STONE VIA AP

Staffan de Mis­tura, UN Spe­cial En­voy for Syria speaks dur­ing a news con­fer­ence Thurs­day in Geneva, Switzer­land.

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