Sunday 21 January 2018

Isil bombs aimed at halting Syria ceasefire, says Russia

A woman carries a child to hospital after he was injured in the triple blast in Sayyida Zeinab, a predominantly Shiite Muslim suburb of Damascus Photo: AP
A woman carries a child to hospital after he was injured in the triple blast in Sayyida Zeinab, a predominantly Shiite Muslim suburb of Damascus Photo: AP

Astrid Armante

Russia has said bomb attacks which killed at least 140 people in Syria were aimed at "subverting attempts" to reach a political settlement. Its foreign ministry condemned the "atrocious crimes of extremists".

Sunday's bombs hit the Shia shrine of Sayyida Zeinab, south of Syria's capital Damascus, and the city of Homs. So-called Islamic State (Isil) said it carried out the attacks. Both targeted areas dominated by Islamic minorities reviled by Isil.

Four blasts in Sayyida Zeinab killed at least 83 people, according to state media. A monitoring group reported that 57 people, mainly civilians, were killed in a double car bombing in Homs.

The UK-based activist group Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) put the toll from the Damascus attacks at 120 and said they were among the deadliest to occur during the whole of Syria's civil war

Isil claimed responsibility for a triple blast in Sayyida Zeinab, saying two of its members set off a car bomb before detonating their explosive belts.

Residents said the attack was about half-a-mile from one of Shiite Islam's holiest shrines and did not damage it.

A triple explosion in Sayyida Zeinab killed 45 people last month.

The blasts came hours after two explosions in the central city of Homs killed and wounded scores of people.

The day of violence follows diplomatic moves aimed at organising a truce. Earlier, US secretary of state John Kerry said a "provisional agreement'' had been reached on a ceasefire in Syria's five-year civil war.

Mr Kerry, who spoke alongside Jordanian foreign minister Nasser Judeh in Amman, Jordan, revealed he had spoken earlier with his Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov, about the agreement.

Now, he said, both the US and Russia planned to reach out to the various sides of the ongoing conflict.

Meanwhile, a Syrian opposition activist group says heavy fighting has cut off the government's only supply route to the northeastern city of Aleppo.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said clashes were under way yesterday along the southeastern approaches to the city, which is bitterly divided between the government and the rebels, and also around the town of Khanaser. A news agency close to Isil said the group had cut the road.

Aleppo, Syria's largest city and one-time commercial centre, is divided between the government and its opponents, while Isil holds a wide front to the east of the city.

Fighting has been fierce in Aleppo province in recent weeks amid a government offensive aimed at cutting off the rebel stronghold.

On Sunday, Syria's main political opposition met to discuss a proposed ceasefire, whose potential for even limited success was undercut by a spike in violence claimed by Isil.

The meeting in the Saudi capital, Riyadh, focussed on Syrian armed factions' demand for international guarantees that Iran and Russia will implement the ceasefire, the negotiating committee of the National Syrian Coalition opposition group said on Twitter.

The coalition's chief negotiator will report on his meeting with armed factions in Turkey last week and then the group will give its final position on the truce, its vice president, Hisham Marwah, said by phone from Istanbul.

The US and Russia, which back opposing sides in the five-year conflict, have been pressing for a halt in the bloodshed that has killed more than 260,000 and displaced half of Syria's 23 million people.

On Sunday, US Secretary of State John Kerry said a limited ceasefire may be reached soon, after his government and Russia agreed provisionally on its terms.

Irish Independent

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