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

  • Alberta union says deal includes right to domestic violence leave

    Canada News CTV News
    EDMONTON -- A union in Alberta has negotiated domestic violence leave for members who work at a long-term care facility. The United Steelworkers says the agreement means Rivercrest Care Centre workers who are victims of domestic violence can take paid leave for legal, medical and counselling appointments without fear of losing their jobs. Source
  • Unsettled Montreal Mob leadership means arson and reprisals to continue: experts

    Canada News CTV News
    MONTREAL -- A spate of recent Montreal-area arsons linked to organized crime suggests the battle for Mafia leadership in Quebec remains fractured, experts say. What is likely, they say, is the era that saw charismatic peacemaker Vito Rizzuto rule for three decades will be replaced by something altogether different. Source
  • Failed nuclear missile test off Florida? U.K. won't say

    World News CTV News
    LONDON -- Britain's prime minister refused to say Sunday whether she knew about an unarmed missile that reportedly failed when it was test-fired off the coast of Florida last year. Theresa May told BBC she has total confidence in Britain's Trident nuclear deterrence system, but didn't confirm or deny a newspaper report about the alleged failure of a ballistic missile designed to carry nuclear warheads. Source
  • 'Hero professor' saved lives despite son, daughter dying in fiery bus crash

    World News Toronto Sun
    BUDAPEST, Hungary — It could take days to officially identify the 16 people killed when a bus carrying Hungarian students returning from a ski trip crashed in Italy and burst into flames, Hungary’s foreign minister said Sunday. Source
  • Trump turns to routine matters after day of bashing media

    World News CTV News
    WASHINGTON -- President Donald Trump, who spent his first full day in office berating the media over their coverage of his inauguration, will spend Sunday engaged in more routine matters, like overseeing the swearing in of high-level staffers. Source
  • Russia set to move closer to decriminalize domestic violence

    World News CTV News
    MOSCOW -- In Russia, giving one's spouse a slap is nothing extraordinary for many people. This week, the Russian parliament is expected to take a step closer toward decriminalizing it altogether. Battery is a criminal offence in Russia, but nearly 20 per cent of Russians openly say they think it is sometimes OK to hit a spouse or a child. Source
  • Strong quake hits Solomons; some damage but no tsunami

    World News CTV News
    CANBERRA, Australia -- A powerful magnitude 7.9 earthquake struck deep under Papua New Guinea on Sunday, causing damage and blackouts but no tsunami hours after the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center issued an alert for nearby islands. Source
  • Severe storm leaves 11 dead in Georgia

    World News CTV News
    ATLANTA -- A powerful tornado ripped through a mobile home park in south Georgia early Sunday, destroying half of its structures and killing seven people. Another four people died across the region amid severe weather. Source
  • Italy rescue crews hold out hope of more hotel survivors

    World News CTV News
    FARINDOLA, Italy -- Rescue crews digging through an Italian hotel buried in an avalanche say there could be additional survivors more than three days after tons of snow came barrelling down a mountainside. Rescuers told reporters in the central Apennine mountains on Sunday morning there are air pockets in some of the Hotel Rigopiano's wreckage. Source
  • Italy rescuers say ice thwarts manual search of buried hotel

    World News CTV News
    FARINDOLA, Italy -- Rescuers digging through an Italian hotel buried by an avalanche reported hearing no signs of life Sunday from the 24 people still missing inside and appealed for equipment to help them penetrate the ruins where they say air pockets might be sustaining more survivors. Source