A dozen Syrian rebel factions have suspended talks on new peace negotiations, accusing President Bashar al-Assad’s regime of violating a four-day-old ceasefire with attacks near Damascus that continued yesterday.
The decision threatens the process sponsored by regime ally Russia and rebel backer Turkey, which began with a truce and is meant to lead to negotiations in the Kazakh capital Astana this month.
The ceasefire has brought quiet to large parts of the country but has been undermined by sporadic violence, particularly fighting in the Wadi Barada region north of Damascus.
The Syrian government says the region does not fall under the ceasefire agreement, given the presence of jihadist group Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, which it says is excluded from the deal. The rebels dispute this.
Government forces backed by fighters from Lebanon’s Hezbollah group have continued to press a two-week-old offensive despite the ceasefire which began December 30.
A dozen rebel groups said in a statement late Monday that they were withdrawing from talks to prepare for the new round of negotiations in Astana.
“As these violations are continuing, the rebel factions announce… the freezing of all discussion linked to the Astana negotiations,” they said.
The rebels said they “respected the ceasefire across the whole of Syria… but the regime and its allies have not stopped shooting and have launched major and frequent violations, notably in the (rebel) regions of Wadi Barada and Eastern Ghouta”, near Damascus.
“If things don’t return to how they were before, the accord will be considered null and void,” the statement added.
It was signed by a dozen groups, including the Army of Islam, Faylaq al-Sham, and the Sultan Murad Brigade, which is close to Turkey.
The fighting in Wadi Barada continued yesterday, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitor said.
The group said government forces were attacking with helicopters and artillery fire after advancing on Monday to the outskirts of the Ain al-Fijeh spring, the main water source in the area.
Syria’s government accuses rebels in Wadi Barada of deliberately targeting infrastructure there, causing fuel to poison the water supply and then cutting the flow to Damascus altogether, reports AFP.
Rebels say government strikes caused the damage, which has left four million people in Damascus without water since December 22.
Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman warned the truce was in a “critical phase” and faced the prospect of “collapse” if sponsors Russia and Turkey did not intervene to save it.
The monitor reported violations elsewhere in the country yesterday, including air strikes on the town of Khan Sheikhun in Idlib province that killed a pregnant woman and wounded three other civilians.
TURKEY, RUSSIA POUND IS
Turkey has bombed and fired at more than 100 IS targets in Syria immediately after the nightclub attack in Istanbul, reports The Independent.
The country’s Chief of General Staff’s office, cited by the state-owned Anadolu Agency, said Turkish jets struck eight IS targets and that tanks and artillery opened fired on 103 targets near the al-Bab stronghold.
The retaliation, an immediate response to a gunman’s killing of at least 39 people at the Reina bar on the banks of the Bosphorus, has reportedly killed 22 people.
Russian jets have also attacked IS targets in Dayr Kak which lies around five miles southwest of al-Bab.