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

  • Smoker arrested after yelling death threats on plane

    World News CTV News
    SACRAMENTO, Calif. - Officials say a woman caught trying to smoke on a Southwest flight has been arrested after shouting she was going to kill everyone on the plane. Sacramento County sheriff's spokesman Shaun Hampton said Monday that 24-year-old Valerie Curbelo was arrested on the tarmac when the plane landed Saturday. Source
  • Toronto library board revising room-booking policy after controversial memorial

    Canada News CTV News
    TORONTO - The Toronto Public Library board voted Monday evening in favour of changing its rental policy following a controversial memorial at a west-end branch this summer. The memorial was held in July for Barbara Kulaszka, a lawyer whose clients included Marc Lemire, the leader of the now-disbanded white supremacy group Heritage Front. Source
  • Alabama foes make final push before big Senate vote

    World News CTV News
    BIRMINGHAM, Ala. -- Facing voters at last after the year's most bitter U.S. campaign, Alabama Republican Roy Moore cast himself Monday as the victim of a national barrage of unjust allegations of sexual misconduct with teenagers. Source
  • Six-year-old boy's quick thinking helps save diabetic mother's life

    Canada News CTV News
    A vigilant six-year-old boy is being heralded by his community with a “Citizen Life-Saving Award” for quick-thinking that helped save his mother’s life. Denise McCormack was at home with her son Ronan Male when she slipped into a diabetic coma in May. Source
  • Alabama foes get in final licks before Tuesday's big vote

    World News CBC News
    Facing voters after the year's most bitter U.S. campaign, Alabama Republican Roy Moore cast himself Monday as the victim of a national barrage of unjust allegations of sexual misconduct with teenagers. Rival Doug Jones, hoping to become the state's first Democratic senator in two decades, declared their race was Alabama's referendum on "who we are and what we're going to tell our daughters. Source
  • Republican Moore embraces Trump message on eve of Alabama election

    World News CBC News
    Facing voters after the year's most bitter U.S. campaign, Alabama Republican Roy Moore cast himself Monday as the victim of a national barrage of unjust allegations of sexual misconduct with teenagers. Rival Doug Jones, hoping to become the state's first Democratic senator in two decades, declared their race was Alabama's referendum on "who we are and what we're going to tell our daughters. Source
  • New Yorker fires reporter Ryan Lizza over alleged sexual misconduct

    World News CBC News
    The New Yorker magazine said Monday it has cut ties with well-known political reporter Ryan Lizza for alleged sexual misconduct. The magazine recently learned Lizza had "engaged in what we believe was improper sexual conduct," a spokeswoman said. Source
  • Mexican journalist in U.S. fears he'll be killed if deported

    World News CTV News
    HOUSTON -- Advocates for a Mexican journalist detained in a remote West Texas facility asked the U.S. government on Monday to grant him asylum instead of deporting him to a country where he believes he'll be killed. Source
  • N.L. man who attacked girlfriend with coat hanger gets discharge

    Canada News CTV News
    A 20-year-old man who was found guilty of attacking his ex-girlfriend has been granted a discharge after his lawyer argued a criminal record would “hamper his plans” for the future. Judge Lori Marshall granted Lancelot Saunders an absolute discharge after Saunders’s lawyer said the man had plans to attend Memorial University. Source
  • Edmonton boy, 6, awarded for quick thinking that saved his mother's life

    Canada News CBC News
    When six-year-old Ronan Male saw his mother collapse in their Edmonton home last spring, he knew exactly what to do. Denise McCormack has managed her diabetes for 30 years. That night, her blood sugars fell dangerously low and she fell out of bed. Source