Sunday 25 September 2016

Syria ceasefire at risk amid Russian anger over airstrike

Zia Weise Istanbul

Published 19/09/2016 | 02:30

Locals make their way through the rubble following an airstrike in Aleppo yesterday. Photo: Getty Images
Locals make their way through the rubble following an airstrike in Aleppo yesterday. Photo: Getty Images

A fragile ceasefire to end the violence in Syria was in jeopardy yesterday after Russia accused the US of criminal negligence bordering on "connivance with terrorists" following an airstrike that killed dozens of Syrian government soldiers.

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Hopes for peace were further strained as unidentified aircraft separately carried out strikes on Aleppo in the first attack on the city since the Russian and American-brokered ceasefire brought combat operations to a halt last Monday.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said several people were wounded, but it could not immediately identify who carried out the strikes.

Russia's defence ministry warned that "tensions were rising" around Aleppo, the city at the centre of a struggle between Bashar al-Assad's government and opposition groups.

The statement came a day after Russia and Syria said aircraft from the US-led coalition struck Syrian government forces near the city of Deir Ezzor, killing dozens of regime troops.

Russia said 62 soldiers were killed in the strikes, while the UK-based Observatory said the attack left at least 90 dead.

The US admitted that Saturday's attack, intended to target Isil positions, may have hit government troops by accident.

Washington promised to carry out an investigation and expressed regret for the "unintentional loss of life".

Russia's foreign ministry described the attack as being "on the boundary between criminal negligence and direct connivance with Isil terrorists".

The strikes "put in jeopardy everything that has been reached by the international community within the framework of the International Syria Support Group, the UN Security Council and on a bilateral basis," added Maria Zakharova, a spokesman for the Russian foreign ministry.

Vitaly Churkin, Russia's ambassador to the UN, said the attack put "a very big question mark" over the peace deal.

A truce brokered by the US and Russia began with a ceasefire between the Syrian government and opposition fighters last Monday. After seven days without violence, the two countries said they would begin joint bombing raids on extremist militant groups, including Isil and the al-Qaeda-linked Jabhat Fateh al-Sham.

Cheap

However, such co-ordination looked increasingly unlikely after the Deir Ezzor strikes.

Samantha Power, the US ambassador to the UN, called on Russia to "stop the cheap point-scoring" and focus on the implementation of the truce in Syria.

The UN Security Council held an emergency meeting in New York at Russia's request. Moscow demanded US explanations for the first attack by the coalition on Syrian government forces in that nation's civil war.

"Syria is a complex situation with various military forces and militias in close proximity, but coalition forces would not intentionally strike a known Syrian military unit," US Central Command said in a statement.

"The coalition will review this strike and the circumstances surrounding it to see if any lessons can be learned."

(© Daily Telegraph, London)

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