Army advances despite deal to cut Syria violence

BEIRUT: The Syrian army seized control of the village of Al Zalakiyat north of Hama on Sunday amid a heavy bombardment, a war monitor reported, despite a deal brokered by Russia, Syria’s main foreign backer, to reduce fighting. Violence has raged in the countryside north of Hama for over a month, since rebels there launched an assault against government forces that was quickly reversed and has now turned into an army push into areas the insurgents gained last year. Under an agreement that took effect at midnight on Friday, fighting was intended to subside over six months in four “de-escalation zones” where violence between the army and rebels have been most intense.
Fighting also took place in the Qaboun district of Damascus, said the Observatory, a Britain-based group that monitors the war in Syria via a network of contacts around the country.
The deal was agreed during ceasefire talks in Astana in Kazakhstan between Russia, Iran and Turkey.
Syria’s government said it supported the proposal but added that it would continue to fight what it called terrorist groups around the country.
Syrian President Bashar al Assad has said previously that all the rebel groups fighting to oust him are terrorists.
Opposition groups rejected the deal, saying that special zones threatened Syria’s territorial integrity, that any role for foreign powers was unacceptable, and that Russia had been unable to get Assad to respect previous ceasefire agreements.
Meanwhile, dozens of IS fighters cornered in a northern part of Syria’s Tabqa are holding off US-backed forces that hold almost all of the city, a monitor said on Sunday.
Tabqa sits on the Euphrates River and on a strategic supply route about 55 km west of Raqa, the Syrian heart of IS’s so-called caliphate.
In their drive for Raqa, the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces have captured more than 90 per cent of Tabqa, but have not been able to fully clear the terrorists out of the city or the adjacent dam. “The SDF hasn’t been able to seize complete control of Tabqa because IS fighters are still present in the neighbourhoods of Wahdah and Hurriyah,” said Rami Abdel Rahman, who heads the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. — Agencies