MIDDLE EAST

‘Regime of calm’ agreed as Syria fighting rages

People inspect the damage at a site hit by airstrikes, in the rebel-held area of Aleppo's Bustan al-Qasr, Syria April 28, 2016. (File photo: Reuters)

A “regime of calm” will be enforced in parts of Syria’s Latakia and Damascus regions from 1:00 am (2200 GMT) on April 30, in order to “secure the implementation of the agreed cessation of hostilities”, a Syrian military statement said on Friday.

A statement from the Syrian Army General Command did not mention the city of Aleppo, focus of fighting, and did not explain what military or non-military action a “regime of calm” would involve.
“The regime of calm does not include Aleppo,” the source told Reuters. “Because in Aleppo there are terrorists who have not stopped hitting the city and its residents.”

“There are a large number of martyrs in Aleppo which is why the situation is different there,” referring to dozens of civilians killed by rebel shelling of government-held areas in recent days.

It would last for 24 hours in the Eastern Ghouta region east of Damascus and in Damascus, and for 72 hours in areas of the northern Latakia countryside.

“This is in order to sever the road for some terrorist groups and their supporters, who strive to prolong this state of tension and instability and to find pretexts to target peaceful civilians,” the statement said.

A Feb. 27 cessation of hostilities agreement was intended to allow an opportunity for peace talks and delivery of humanitarian relief across Syria.

Peace talks in Geneva aimed to end a war that has created the world’s worst refugee crisis, allowed for the rise of ISIS and drew in regional and major powers, but the negotiations have all but failed and a cessation of hostilities agreement to allow them to take place has all but collapsed.

US-Russian agreement

The “regime of silence” has also been agreed by Russia and the United States which forbids military action in several parts of Syria, including the use of any kinds of weapons, the Interfax news agency quoted a senior Russian military official as saying on Friday.

General Sergei Kuralenko, in charge of Russia’s ceasefire monitoring center in Syria, was also cited as saying he saw no risk that the situation would slide back into a full-blown military conflict.

The United States said on Friday that discussions with Russia aim to renew the cessation of hostilities in Syria following the deadly bombing this week of a hospital in Aleppo.

“Our hope is by refreshing this agreement ... we can build momentum again toward a broadly observed cessation of hostilities,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest told a briefing.

Ghassan Ibrahim, head of the London-based Global Arab Network, told Al Arabiya English that a truce as short as this will not have a significant impact on the situation in Syria.

He also said ceasefire would be futile if it did not include Aleppo – the city which has been most affected by the recent intensified violence in Syria.

The agreement comes a day after the US and its allies carried out 22 strikes against ISIS fighters in Iraq and Syria, focusing on the Mar'a area of western Syria and the city of Fallujah in Iraq, according to military figures released on Friday.

The airstrikes destroyed six fighting positions, four mortar positions and a vehicle, the military said in a statement.

Four strikes were also carried out against militants around the ISIS-held city of Fallujah, about 40 miles west of Baghdad. The strikes destroyed three fighting positions, a vehicle and two bridges, the statement said.

The coalition also carried out air or rocket artillery strikes against ISIS positions near Mosul, Qayyarah, Kisik, Al Baghdadi, Ramadi and Sinjar in Iraq, including the stronghold of Raqqa in Syria.

Russian consulate shelled

Shortly after the agreement of the ceasefire, Russia's foreign ministry on Friday denounced an attack on its consulate in Syria's war-ravaged city of Aleppo, accusing militants of shelling the compound.

“The building of Russia's Consulate General in Aleppo came under sudden mortar attack on April 28 around 3 pm Moscow time (1200 GMT),” it said in a statement.

“One shell landed inside its grounds... and three more exploded near the fence on the outside. There were no deaths or injuries.”

The consulate has not been operating since January 2013 and is manned only by Syrian-national staff, the ministry said, accusing the al-Qaeda linked al-Nusra Front of targeting the building.

“According to the information we have so far, the attack on the Consulate General was deliberate and carried out by the militants of Jabhat al-Nusra and groups associated with it,” it said.

“We decisively condemn this terrorist attack,” the ministry said, adding that “we consider it highly important to adequately rebuff such attempts.”

It further called for greater coordination of Russia and the US in the 17-nation International Syria Support Group, which oversees a task force on observing the ceasefire in Syria.

Violence in Aleppo

An air strike on a hospital in the city of Aleppo that killed dozens of people was probably the work of Syrian government forces, a spokesman for the German government said on Friday.

A US official has also said the attack on Wednesday night appeared to be solely the work of the Syrian government. Syria’s military has denied its warplanes targeted the hospital.

German government spokesman Steffen Seibert told a news conference the destruction was targeted and therefore constituted the “murder of a huge number of civilians”.

“The available information suggests that this attack can, with some degree of probability, be traced back to the troops of (President Bashar al-Assad’s) regime,” Seibert said, adding that it was a “blatant violation of humanitarian law”.

The German government warned that the escalation of fighting in Aleppo and elsewhere threatened to undermine peace talks in Geneva.

“That must be avoided,” said Seibert, adding that Russia had a duty to prevent the ceasefire and the political process from failing.

The Geneva talks aim to end a war that has created the world’s worst refugee crisis, allowed the rise of Islamic State and drawn in regional and major powers, but a truce intended to allow negotiations to take place has collapsed.

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said in a statement on Friday: “The Syrian government must decide - does it want to take part in negotiations seriously or does it want to continue to reduce its own country to rubble?”

Airstrikes on rebel-held areas of Aleppo killed 123 civilians including 18 children during the past seven days of intensified violence in the northern Syrian city, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said on Friday.

Seventy-one civilians, including 13 children, were killed by rebel shelling into government-held areas of the city during the same period, the British-based monitoring group said.

Eight more civilians, including three children, were killed by government shelling into areas not under its control in the city, the Observatory said.

In another attack in Aleppo, three people were killed and 25 wounded when rebel-fired mortars hit a mosque in Aleppo as people were leaving Friday prayers, the Syrian state news agency SANA said.

The mosque was in the government-held Bab al-Faraj area of Aleppo. SANA also said there were more deaths and injuries from rebel mortar attacks which hit the Bab al-Faraj and al-Midan quarters of Aleppo on Friday.

In another attack in the city, Medical charity Medecins sans Frontieres (MSF) - also known as Doctors Without Borders - have said that the death toll at a hospital hit by airstrikes on Thursday in the northern of the city rose to at least 50 people, including six medics.

The al-Quds hospital, in a rebel-held part of the divided city, was struck overnight Wednesday-Thursday in an attack that was widely condemned abroad.

‘Monstrous disregard’

In response to the escalating violence, the UN human rights chief, Zeid Ra'ad al-Hussein, said violence was “soaring back to the levels we saw prior to the cessation of hostilities”.

“There are deeply disturbing reports of military build-ups indicating preparations for a lethal escalation,” Zeid said. The reports revealed a “monstrous disregard for civilian lives by all parties to the conflict”, he added.

The United Nations has called on Moscow and Washington to help restore the ceasefire to prevent the collapse of peace talks, which broke up this week in Geneva with virtually no progress after the opposition walked out.

“The cessation of hostilities and the Geneva talks were the only game in town, and if they are abandoned now, I dread to think how much more horror we will see in Syria,” Zeid said.

Ibrahim, however, does not see the UN statement as strong enough.

Instead, the analyst considers it as “routine” condemnation, incapable of saying who is truly responsible.

“Whenever there is an escalation on the ground in Syria, a UN spokesman would issue a couple of statements, but sadly these statements are not really strong enough because they are not pointing to Assad and saying that he did the crime,” he said.

He added: “Why don’t they say that Assad did it?”

(With Reuters and AFP)

 

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Last Update: Saturday, 30 April 2016 KSA 00:21 - GMT 21:21
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‘Regime of calm’ agreed as Syria fighting rages
A ceasefire will be enforced in Syria’s Latakia and Damascus regions tomorrow to secure the agreed cessation of hostilities
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