Syria clashes test fragile truce

By Rana Moussaoui — Fighting in parts of Syria on Sunday threatened a shaky ceasefire brokered by Russia and Turkey, whose efforts to kickstart talks towards ending the conflict won backing from world powers. The truce between the regime and rebels aims to smooth the way for peace talks in Kazakhstan later this month orchestrated by Damascus’s allies Moscow and Tehran and rebel backer Ankara. The UN Security Council on Saturday unanimously approved a resolution supporting the Russian and Turkish initiative aimed at ending the nearly six-year-old.
Air raids and clashes have continued to shake parts of the country since the ceasefire started at midnight on Thursday, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based monitor of the war.
Four civilians and nine rebels have been killed since the truce took effect, according to the group.
The air strikes and fighting “are unlikely to lead to the ceasefire collapsing, but they are violations of the deal,” Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman said.
Outside Damascus, the Observatory reported exchanges of fire between the regime and rebels in Eastern Ghouta, where President Bashar al Assad’s forces have waged a months-long offensive to retake an opposition bastion. The truce excludes the IS and former Al Qaeda affiliate Fateh Al Sham Front.
Saturday’s UN resolution “welcomes and supports the efforts by Russia and Turkey to end violence in Syria and jumpstart a political process” and hails the planned talks in the Kazakh capital Astana as “an important step”.
Moscow and Ankara have been working closely on Syria, including on a deal to allow the evacuation of civilians and rebels from the besieged northern city of Aleppo last month.
The fighting in Syria has occasionally spilled over into neighbouring Turkey, with several attacks blamed on IS or Kurdish militants.
In the latest violence, 39 people, including many foreigners, were killed on Sunday when a gunman went on the rampage at a nightclub in Istanbul, where revellers were celebrating the New Year.
Turkey has waged a four-month incursion in Syria that it says is to expel IS and Kurdish fighters from the border area.
Washington has been noticeably absent from the new process to end Syria’s conflict but has called the truce “positive”.
Moscow, which has been supporting Damascus with air strikes since 2015, has said it hopes to bring US President-elect Donald Trump’s administration on board once he takes office later this month.— AFP