Sunday 22 April 2018

Syria's slaughter goes on after truce disintegrates

Oliver Holmes

FORCES loyal to Syrian president Bashar al-Assad renewed their bombardment of major cities yesterday and rebels launched several attacks, further undermining a truce that was meant to mark the Muslim Eid al-Adha religious holiday.

The violence came on the second day of the ceasefire called by peace envoy Lakhdar Brahimi, who had hoped to use it to build momentum to end the 19-month-old conflict in which an estimated 32,000 have been killed.

Syrian state news SANA reported dozens of "ceasefire violations" by rebel groups, including a car bomb in front of a Christian church in the eastern city of Deir al-Zor.

Activists in Deir al-Zor and in Aleppo -- Syria's most populous city, about half of which is controlled by rebels -- said mortars were being fired into residential areas.

Residents in Damascus posted internet footage of fighter jets they said bombed the suburbs of Erbin and Harasta. Eight people were killed, according to the residents and to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a British-based opposition organisation with a network of sources within Syria.

It was not possible to verify events due to Syria's restrictions on media access.

The army has said it agreed to the ceasefire but that it also had a duty to respond to rebel attacks.

A commander from the rebel Free Syrian Army said his force would honour the truce but demanded that Assad meet opposition demands for the release of thousands of detainees. Some Islamist militants, including the Nusra Front, said they would keep on fighting.

More than 150 people were killed on Friday, including 43 soldiers, said the Observatory for Human Rights. Most were shot by sniper fire or in combat, it added.

The conflict pits Assad, whose minority Alawite sect is distantly related to Shi'ite Islam, against mainly Sunni Muslim rebels. Recent attacks, such as yesterday's bomb at a Syriac church, point to an increasingly sectarian conflict.

Rebels in Azaz, a northern Syrian town, reported on their Facebook page that they had a detained Lebanese journalist Fidaa Itani. They said Itani, who works for LBCI television, was put under house arrest as his work was "incompatible with the course of the Syrian revolution".

A Reuters cameraman in the Turkish border village of Besaslan in southern Hatay province said he could hear a helicopter circling on the Syrian side of the border, as well as gunfire and explosions.

Mr Brahimi's ceasefire appeal had won widespread international support, including from Russia, China and Iran, Assad's main foreign allies.

Sunday Independent

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