As truce nears, Syria activists report heavy Russian strikes

BEIRUT -- Warplanes unleashed airstrikes on the suburbs of the Syrian capital and near the northern, rebel-held city of Aleppo on Friday, hours before a cease-fire brokered by the United States and Russia was to go into effect at midnight local time across the war-ravaged country.

See Full Article

The barrage came as the main Syrian opposition and rebel umbrella group said dozens of factions -- 97 groups in all -- have agreed to abide by the cease-fire. The High Negotiations Committee, or HNC, said a military committee has been formed to follow up on the cease-fire.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the warplanes in Friday's strikes were believed to be Russian. The Kremlin did not comment the latest developments but denied allegations that the Russian air force bombed civilian positions east of Damascus the previous day.

The rebel-held Damascus suburb of Douma was hit 40 times on Friday, the Observatory said, along with other areas east of the capital, killing at least eight people, including three women and four children. The monitoring group said the air raids were conducted as Syrian government's artillery shelled the area, which is a stronghold of the Army of Islam rebel group.

Mazen al-Shami, an activist based in the area, said the warplanes were Russians, adding that they carried out some 60 air raids on Friday also. He said 25 strikes targeted Douma. "The air raids intensified after the revolutionary factions said they will abide by the cease fire," al-Shami said via Skype.

The Observatory also reported dozens of airstrike north of the northern city of Aleppo, which has been under attack by troops and pro-government militias for weeks.

Late Thursday, President Barack Obama expressed hope that the cease-fire in Syria will lead to a political settlement to end the civil war and allow a more intense focus on battling the Islamic State. He said he doesn't expect the truce to immediately end hostilities after years of bloodshed between forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar Assad and rebels who want to end his reign.

Announced just this week, the cease-fire is a "test" of whether the parties are committed to broader negotiations over a political transition, a new constitution and holding free elections, Obama said. He said Syria's future cannot include Assad as president, which is a chief point of contention with Russia and Iran, who support the Syrian leader.

"We are certain that there will continue to be fighting," Obama said, noting that IS, the Nusra Front and other militant groups are not part of the negotiations and the truce.

Obama put the onus on Russia and its allies -- including the Assad government -- to live up to their commitments under the agreement. The elusive cease-fire deal was reached only after a months-long Russian air campaign that the U.S. says strengthened Assad's hand and allowed his forces to retake territory, altering the balance of power in the Syrian civil war.

"The world will be watching," Obama said.

In Moscow, Russian President Vladimir Putin said his country will keep hitting "terrorist organizations" in Syria even after the truce is implemented.

Putin reiterated at a meeting of top officials of the Federal Security Service on Friday that the cease-fire does not cover groups such as the IS, the Nusra Front and other factions.

The opposition umbrella, HNC, said in a statement that the Syrian "regime and its allies should not exploit the (truce) and continue with their hostilities against opposition factions under the pretext of fighting terrorists."

In Turkey, a top presidential aide said Ankara is concerned over Russian bombings and Syrian forces' ground operations ahead of the truce. Ibrahim Kalin, spokesman for President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, told reporters that Turkey supports the cease-fire agreement in principle but is worried about the continued operations.

Turkey has been one of strongest supports of opposition and insurgent groups trying to remove Syrian President Bashar Assad from power.

In the northeastern Syrian town of Shaddadeh, officials from the U.S.-backed predominantly Kurdish Syria Democratic Forces told reporters that since they launched their latest campaign in Hassakeh province against IS on Feb. 16, the group captured 315 villages from the extremists.

The SDF has become the most effective force in fighting the Islamic State group and last week captured the once IS-stronghold of Shaddadeh. The group's spokesman Talal Sillo told reporters that 20 SDF and 275 fighters from IS were killed in the battles.

Earlier, the Observatory and Syria's state news agency said government forces captured on Friday several villages from Islamic State extremists in Aleppo province.

The SANA news agency said government troops took three villages near the town of Khanaser, which they recaptured from the IS group the previous day. The Observatory reported that two villages were taken by the government troops, saying they are working to open the only road linking the city of Aleppo with central and western Syria.

IS attacked the Khanaser area on Monday, capturing the town only to lose it Thursday.

The five days of fighting in the Khanaser has killed 61 troops and pro-government fighters and 91 IS militants, according to the Observatory.



Advertisements

Latest Canada & World News

  • 'Screaming, howling wind' from cyclone leaves thousands of Aussies without power

    World News CBC News
    Howling winds, heavy rain and huge seas pounded Australia's northeast on Tuesday, damaging homes, wrecking jetties and cutting power to thousands of people as Tropical Cyclone Debbie tore through Queensland state's far north. Wind gusts stronger than 260 km per hour were recorded at tourist resorts along the world-famous Great Barrier Reef as the powerful storm, at Category 4 just one rung below the most dangerous wind speed level, began to make landfall. Source
  • Malaysian authorities still in possession of Kim Jong-nam's body

    World News CBC News
    The body of Kim Jong-nam, who was murdered in Malaysia last month, is still in Kuala Lumpur, health minister Health Minister Subramaniam Sathasivam said on Tuesday, amid reports the remains of the estranged half brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un will soon leave the country. Source
  • Red Bull heir enjoys jet-set life 4 years after hit-and-run

    World News Toronto Sun
    BANGKOK — The Ferrari driver who allegedly slammed into a motorcycle cop, dragged him along the road and then sped away from the mangled body took just hours to find, as investigators followed a drip, drip, drip trail of brake fluid up a street, down an alley, and into the gated estate of one of Thailand’s richest families. Source
  • Trump takes aim at Obama's efforts to curb climate change

    World News CTV News
    WASHINGTON - Moving forward with a campaign pledge to unravel former President Barack Obama's sweeping plan to curb global warming, U.S. President Donald Trump will sign an executive order Tuesday that will suspend, rescind or flag for review more than a half-dozen measures in an effort to boost domestic energy production in the form of fossil fuels. Source
  • Talk about horsepower; Fugitive horse, mule run loose on California highway

    World News Toronto Sun
    WALNUT CREEK, Calif. — That mustang in the rearview mirror turned out to be a real horse running on a Northern California highway — followed by a mule. Commuters east of San Francisco on Monday were stunned to see a white horse and a brown mule running across Interstate 680. Source
  • Albertans would be consulted before any pot rules set, Notley says

    Canada News CBC News
    Albertans will be consulted by the province before rules around where marijuana can be bought, sold and used roll out pending legalization next July, Premier Rachel Notley said Monday. "We're aware of all the issues, we haven't landed yet on the key decision factors because we need to consult with Albertans and we have to know exactly what the federal legislation looks like before we can figure out what our path looks like after that," she said. Source
  • Coalition isn't protecting Mosul civilians, Amnesty alleges

    World News CTV News
    BAGHDAD - A recent spike in civilian casualties in Mosul suggests the U.S.-led coalition is not taking adequate precautions to prevent civilian deaths as it battles the Islamic State militant group alongside Iraqi ground forces, Amnesty International said Tuesday. Source
  • Woman attempted to impregnate captive Mexican surrogate with syringes

    World News Toronto Sun
    A Florida woman pleaded guilty to forced labour charges after she admitted to smuggling a Mexican woman across the border, holding her captive while attempting to impregnate her with syringes. Esthela Clark, 47, of Jacksonville, told a courtroom that she paid about $3,000 to have a woman smuggled across the border from Mexico to be a pregnancy surrogate. Source
  • French tourists retrace N.S. soldier's path to Vimy Ridge

    Canada News CTV News
    Most French tourists walk the cobble stone streets around Cape Breton’s Fortress of Louisbourg to retrace the footsteps of their ancestors who fought the British over what would become Canada. But one group has crossed the Atlantic to relive the journey of a young Nova Scotia coal miner who gave his life on one of the most famous battlefields of the First World War. Source
  • White U.S. Army veteran charged with act of terrorism in killing of black man

    World News CBC News
    A white racist accused of fatally stabbing a 66-year-old stranger on a Manhattan street because he was black says he'd intended it as "a practice run" in a mission to deter interracial relationships. James Harris Jackson, 28, spoke with a reporter for the Daily News at New York City's Rikers Island jail complex. Source