Fighting Further Buries Hopes For Syria Truce
Syrian rebels and pro-government forces battled each other on major frontlines near Aleppo and Hama, and air strikes reportedly killed a dozen people, including four medical workers, as a ceasefire appeared to have completely unraveled.
The renewed battles demonstrated the thin prospects for reviving a truce that collapsed into fresh fighting and bombardments on Monday, including an attack on an aid convoy which U.S. officials believe was carried out by Russian jets. Moscow denies involvement.
The U.N. Security Council was due to hold a high-level meeting on Syria later on Wednesday.
Despite accusing Moscow of being behind the bombing of the aid convoy, the United States says the ceasefire agreement it sponsored jointly with Russia is “not dead”.
But the deal, probably the final hope of reaching a settlement on Syria before the administration of President Barack Obama leaves office, is following the path of all previous peace efforts in Syria: still being touted by diplomats long after the warring parties appeared to have abandoned it.
Overnight fighting was focused in areas that control access to Aleppo city, where the rebel-held east has been encircled by government forces, aided by Russian air power and Iran-backed militias, for all but a few weeks since July.
Syrian state media and a TV station controlled by its Lebanese ally Hezbollah said the army had recaptured a fertilizer factory in the Ramousah area to the southwest of the city. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a monitoring body, confirmed the advance and said government forces had pressed forward near an apartment complex nearby.
A rebel fighter in the Aleppo area said warplanes had been bombing all night in preparation for an attack. But “the regime’s attempts to advance failed,” said the rebel, speaking to Reuters from the Aleppo area via the internet.
A Syrian military source said insurgent groups were mobilizing to the south and west of Aleppo, and in the northern Hama area. “We will certainly target all these gatherings and mobilizations they are conducting.”
The army reported carrying out air strikes on seven areas near Aleppo. The Observatory said an air strike killed four medical workers and at least nine rebel fighters in the insurgent-held town of Khan Touman south of Aleppo, saying the rebels were part of the Islamist alliance Jaish al-Fatah.
The medical staff killed were working for the Union of Medical Care and Relief Organisations (UOSSM), it said. UOSSM confirmed in a statement that at least four of its staff had been killed.
Syrian government forces also launched a major advance in Hama province in the West of the country.
“It is a very intense attack, for which Russian jets paved the way, but it was repelled by the brothers, praise God,” Abu al-Baraa al-Hamawi, a rebel commander fighting as part of the Islamist Jaish al-Fatah alliance, told Reuters.
He said rebels had destroyed four tanks and inflicted heavy losses on government troops. Syrian state TV said government forces had killed a number of insurgents and destroyed their vehicles.
Rebel sources also reported an attempt by pro-government forces to advance in the Handarat area to the north of Aleppo, saying this too had been repelled. Pro-government media made no mention of that attack.
The Observatory reported that a Syrian jet had crashed near Damascus, saying the cause of the crash and fate of the pilot were unknown. Islamic State said it had been shot down.