Renewed fighting makes mockery of Syrian ceasefire

A Syrian man carries a child as they evacuate an area following a reported airstrike on April 22. Picture: AFP/Getty Images
A Syrian man carries a child as they evacuate an area following a reported airstrike on April 22. Picture: AFP/Getty Images
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Syrian government air raids yesterday hit opposition-held areas near Damascus and Aleppo, killing at least 25 while rebels fired mortars into Damascus as the teetering cease-fire that began in February looked increasingly under threat.

Diplomats warned that the fighting worsened a situation already inflamed by the walk-out by the Saudi-backed opposition group from peace talks on Monday. The opposition accuses the government of wrecking the talks with ongoing attacks while the government says it is only targeting terrorist groups who are not part of the ceasefire agreement.

UN envoy Staffan de Mistura said the talks will continue until Wednesday as planned, but said the two sides are “extremely polarised”, casting doubt on their viability.

Yesterday’s fighting looked set to only harden the opposition’s position. Anas al-Abda, the leader of the Turkey-based Syrian National Coalition represented in the Geneva talks, lamented the international community’s “limpness” in responding to what he called “massacres” against civilians, in response to the Aleppo violence.

The government air raids on rebel-held areas in Aleppo killed at least 12 people, including children, when they targeted a residential area in the Tareeq al-Bab district in the contested city, the activist-run Aleppo Media Centre said. Images of the destruction posted on its Facebook page and other sites showed destroyed buildings and rescue teams removing civilians from under rubble and the upper floors of destroyed buildings, including terrified women and children.

On Friday, at least 18 people were killed in airstrikes on several rebel-held neighbourhoods in Aleppo, in what activists described as the most intense campaign of air raids since the cease-fire began. Government forces have boxed-in opposition held areas from all sides except for a corridor from the north-western edge of the city. Opposition groups have said reports of a new government offensive on their stronghold in the city would wreck the peace talks.

Near the capital, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and the opposition activist-run Syrian Press Centre both said government shelling of rebel strongholds in the eastern Damascus suburb of Ghouta yesterday killed at least 13 people, including three women and two children.

Syria’s Interior Ministry, meanwhile, said mortar shells fired by rebels fell in two neighbourhoods in Damascus, including one several hundred yards from the Russian embassy.