Two dead in bombing of Syria rebel bastion despite truce

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Two people were killed on Wednesday in bombardment of a Syrian rebel bastion near Damascus, a monitor said, less than 24 hours after Russia announced a freeze in fighting there.

“A young man and a woman were killed in air strikes on Douma,” the largest town in the Eastern Ghouta region, said Rami Abdel Rahman, head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

Raids also hit the town of Arbin, and regime artillery hit Harasta, leaving nearly two dozen people wounded in Eastern Ghouta.

“These are the first air strikes since the truce was announced” on Tuesday afternoon, Abdel Rahman said.

An AFP correspondent in Douma told AFP that a warplane had struck the town and that residents who were outside had rushed back into their homes.

“The situation is tragic -- the heavy shelling is ongoing,” said Zeina, a resident of Douma who spoke to AFP via the internet.

Russia’s defence ministry on Tuesday declared a two-week “regime of silence” in Eastern Ghouta, the last opposition stronghold near the Syrian capital.

Hamza Bayraqdar, a spokesman for the Army of Islam, told AFP on Tuesday that the faction had not been notified about the ceasefire, but would not “reject any agreement to stop the bloodshed and suffering of our people”.

And senior Army of Islam official Mohammad Alloush lambasted regime ally Moscow on Wednesday after the strikes.

“Russia’s announcement of a cessation of hostilities in Eastern Ghouta is a political announcement -- militarily, it’s not being executed,” he told AFP.

“Russia wants to present itself as neutral and a sponsor of a political solution (to the Syrian conflict), but on the ground it’s a different case,” he said.

“This announcement came late. It was supposed to be announced on March 5, but the regime did not commit to it. Even with this announcement, there is no agreement from the regime on a freeze.”

Eastern Ghouta has been under a devastating government siege since 2012, but has also been the target of a blistering regime offensive in recent months.

It is the last remaining opposition stronghold near Damascus, where a string of local “reconciliation deals” have seen villages and towns brought back under the control of President Bashar al-Assad’s government.

Russia and rebel backer Turkey sponsored a nationwide truce between Assad’s forces and opposition fighters in December, but fighting has continued across swathes of Syria.

More than 310,000 have been killed since Syria’s conflict began in March 2011.

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