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Thursday 22 February 2018

Ceasefire around key Syrian city of Aleppo extended for 48 hours

Peace talks on the conflict in Syria are being held in Paris (AP)
Peace talks on the conflict in Syria are being held in Paris (AP)

A fragile and limited ceasefire in the northern Syrian city of Aleppo and its surrounding countryside has been extended for the third time, for another 48 hours starting at 1am on Tuesday morning, the Syrian military said on Monday.

The extension came a couple of hours before an earlier ceasefire was set to expire at 12:01 on Tuesday morning. It is not clear why the one-hour gap was planned between the new ceasefire and the expiring one.

Just hours before the government announced the ceasefire, the United Sates said that a new agreement with Russia would replace localised, piecemeal ceasefires in Syria with a revived, nationwide truce. It was not clear if other announcements regarding cease-fires in the rest of the country would follow.

A joint US-Russia statement made no explicit reference to ending the practice of pursuing partial truces.

The extremist groups the Nusra Front, al Qaida's branch in Syria, and its more powerful rival the Islamic State group, are not included in the ceasefire agreement. An intricate landscape where government troops, extremist groups, and Western-backed rebels operate, often side by side, has made an earlier cease-fire reached in late February difficult to sustain and monitor.

But also, elusive political talks have also hardened positions, endangering the ceasefire. World leaders are struggling to get faltering peace talks back on track.

Aleppo has seen the worst violence since an earlier cease-fire reached in late February collapsed. Nearly 300 civilians were killed in several days.

Syria's military said the new ceasefire would expire at midnight on Wednesday.

There were limited breaches of the most recent five-day ceasefire from both sides.

Multiple air raids on Monday struck rebel-held areas while shelling hit government-controlled parts of the northern city of Aleppo, two opposition monitoring groups and Syrian state media reported.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and the Local Coordination Committee said the air strikes hit several areas in Aleppo, including the neighbourhood of Rashideen. Monday's air strikes came a day after opposition fighters shelled the government-held neighbourhood of Midan, killing a child, state media and activists said.

Opposition activists also reported air raids and shelling on the town of Khan Touman, just south of Aleppo, which was captured Friday by a coalition of insurgent groups including the Nusra Front. The battle left at least 13 members of Iran's elite Revolutionary Guards force dead as well as troops and pro-government gunmen.

The town was captured by a coalition known as Jaish al-Fatah, or Army of Conquest, an ultraconservative group led by the Nusra Front, and the jihadi militias Jund al-Aqsa and Ahrar al-Sham.

Press Association

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