Heavy airstrikes in Syria hours before ceasefire

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

See Full Article

If the cessation of hostilities holds, it would be the first time international negotiations have brought any degree of quiet in Syria's five-year civil war. But success requires adherence by multiple armed factions. Also, it is made more fragile because it allows fighting to continue against the Islamic State group and the Nusra Front, al-Qaida's branch in the country -- which could easily respark broader warfare.

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

Nusra Front leader Abu Mohammed al-Golani rejected the truce saying that his militants will continue fighting and calling on Syrians not to trust the West and America.

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 on 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 the 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 Russian, 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 ceasefire," al-Shami said via Skype.

Syria's state news agency said two journalists working for state TV were wounded when they came under fire from militants in the Damascus suburbs of Daraya.

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, U.S. President Barack Obama expressed hope that the ceasefire 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 ceasefire 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 ceasefire 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.

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 ceasefire agreement in principle but is worried about the continued operations.

Turkey has been one of strongest supporters 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 has 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

  • Quebec City police say two-year-old girl was stabbed to death

    Canada News CTV News
    QUEBEC -- Police say a two-year-old Quebec girl who died in hospital after being found in a garbage can had been stabbed. Rosalie Gagnon's mother was charged Thursday with arson, mischief and obstructing the work of a police officer in the infant's death. Source
  • Quebec school boards say they're not ready for new surge of asylum seekers

    Canada News CTV News
    MONTREAL -- Quebec schools are feeling the pressure as asylum-seeking families with young children continue to cross the U.S. border into the province. A spokeswoman for one of Montreal's largest school boards says it has had a record number of new students this past year, including some 700 who are asylum seekers. Source
  • Toddler found dead in Quebec City had been stabbed, police confirm

    Canada News CBC News
    Quebec City police say they now have the autopsy results for two-year-old Rosalie Gagnon, found dead in a garbage bin Wednesday, confirming she was stabbed to death. Police are asking residents whose garbage bins have gone missing and who live on or near de Gaulle Avenue to contact 911. Source
  • Supreme court changes guidelines for international child custody cases

    Canada News CTV News
    Canada's top court is issuing new guidelines on how international custody disputes should be judged, saying "all relevant circumstances" should be taken into account when deciding what country a child should live in. The direction from the Supreme Court of Canada comes in a ruling on a custody battle involving parents who clashed on whether their children should live in Canada or Germany. Source
  • Parliament Hill plays host to last annual marijuana rally before legalization

    Canada News CTV News
    OTTAWA -- Cannabis enthusiasts are gathering en masse on Parliament Hill to mark the annual marijuana celebration known as 4-20. The event marks the last time pot users will flock to the Hill to celebrate cannabis culture in late April before the federal government legalizes recreational marijuana later this summer. Source
  • Man accused of student murder not fit for trial: court

    Canada News CTV News
    NEW WESTMINSTER, B.C. -- A man accused of murdering a student at a high school in Abbotsford, B.C., has been found unfit to stand trial because of his mental state. B.C. Supreme Court Justice Heather Holmes said Friday that the variability of Gabriel Klein's mental illness must be taken into account. Source
  • A look at each province's rules for marijuana legalization

    Canada News CTV News
    As cannabis culture is celebrated across Canada, the annual 4/20 day carries a special significance for Canadians this year, thanks to the promised legalization of marijuana that’s expected to take effect in the coming months. Source
  • Mourners lining up to pay final respects to Barbara Bush

    World News CTV News
    HOUSTON -- A spray of flowers covered the closed silver casket of former first lady Barbara Bush in the sanctuary of a Houston church as hundreds of mourners began arriving Friday to pay their final respects. Source
  • President George HW Bush greets mourners honouring his wife

    World News CTV News
    HOUSTON -- Former President George H.W. Bush surprisingly greeted some of the hundreds of mourners filing through a large Houston church on Friday as they paid final respects to his wife of 73 years, former first lady Barbara Bush. Source
  • Leaders approve Prince Charles to succeed Queen as Commonwealth head

    World News CBC News
    Prince Charles was approved to succeed Queen Elizabeth as head of the Commonwealth at a Friday meeting of the group's heads of government in the British town of Windsor. "We recognize the role of the Queen in championing the Commonwealth and its peoples," the Commonwealth leaders said in a statement. Source