Jets strike east Damascus for 1st time since truce

French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said Geneva peace talks cannot resume unless the ceasefire is fully respected

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War planes struck twice on Friday on the outskirts of Syria’s Douma, northeast of Damascus, the first raids there since a cessation of hostilities agreement went into effect, a monitoring group said.

“Two air strikes hit the edge of the town of Douma in Eastern Ghouta and one person was killed,” said Rami Abdel Rahman, head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

He said the strikes were conducted by either Syrian or Russian planes, and could not identify whether the individual killed was a civilian or a fighter.

The Observatory also said the Syrian government forces fired rockets close to a rebel-held town in northwestern Syria on Friday in an expansion of operations that have continued in that area despite the ceasefire.

Heavy shell and rocket fire landed around the town of Ghasaniya, which is between the Turkish border and the rebel-held town of Jisr al-Shughour in Idlib province, the Observatory said. It said there was no news on casualties.

Last year, rebel advances in this area were seen as a growing threat to President Bashar al-Assad.

In the same day, the Syrian Kurdish YPG group said armed opposition groups in the Aleppo area had not respected a cessation of hostilities agreement, accusing them of attacking the mainly Kurdish Sheikh Maksoud district of Aleppo and other areas near the city.

A YPG report said the factions had "not abided by the ceasefire and halt to hostile operations".

“On the contrary they resumed fierce attacks and random bombardment, specifically of Sheikh Maksoud,” it said.

Opposition groups have meanwhile accused the YPG of breaking the ceasefire and launching attacks since it came into effect on Saturday. The opposition accuses the YPG of coordinating with Damascus, a charge the YPG denies.

The YPG also accused opposition groups of breaching the agreement in areas north of Aleppo city. “They did not abide by the announced truce and continued their attacks on the city of Afrin and nearby villages and all positions that are under the control of the People’s Protection Units (YPG),” it said.

Russia’s Defence Ministry quoted by Russian news agencies also accused Turkey of shelling Kurdish units fighting against Nusra Front in Syria while columns of trucks with various cargo and weapons for rebels cross into Syria from Turkey daily.

The ministry said a total of 41 ceasefire violations have been registered in Syria over the past two days.

It said that a ceasefire agreement had been signed with a local warlord of the rebel Jaish al-Islam group. But the militant group soon denied that it made a ceasefire deal with Russia in a statement.

French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault on Friday hailed “real progress” in Syria but said Geneva peace talks cannot resume unless the ceasefire is fully respected and until all Syrians have access to aid.

“We want a speedy resumption of the negotiations in Geneva, but two conditions must be fulfilled: access for all Syrians to humanitarian aid, and full respect of the ceasefire,” Ayrault said after meeting with his British, German and EU counterparts.

The country’s main opposition leader Riad Hijab said Friday that Assad has no place in a political transition for Syria because he has “blood on his hands.”

Talks scheduled next week in Geneva are “about putting in place a transition authority will full powers,” Hijab told a Paris news conference, adding: “There’s no place for (Assad) in this transition formula because he has blood on his hands.”

The leaders of Russia, France, Germany, Britain and Italy also held a conference call on Friday to discuss Syria, an Italian government source said.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, French President Francois Hollande, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, British Prime Minister David Cameron and Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi talked about “the situation in Syria,” the source said.

No further details were immediately available.

(With Reuters, AFP)

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