Air strikes escalate despite Syria ceasefire

Air strikes escalate despite Syria ceasefire

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The UN envoy for Syria has insisted a ceasefire in the country is largely holding “with some exceptions”, despite opposition activists reporting a mounting number of government air strikes.

Speaking in Geneva, Staffan de Mistura said he is concerned fighting north-west of Damascus that has cut off the capital’s clean water supply would further escalate and derail proposed negotiations between the government and the opposition in Astana, Kazakhstan, later this month.

The talks are sponsored by Russia and Turkey, which support opposing sides of the Syrian civil war. But the status of the meeting, planned for January 23, is not clear.

Rebels say the government’s continued campaign for the Barada Valley, the capital’s main source of water, has cast the talks in doubt.

The UN says the capital has suffered from a water shortage affecting 5.5 million consumers since December 22.

The leader of one of Syria’s largest rebel factions, the ultra-conservative Ahrar al-Sham, said in remarks aired on Thursday that the violence in the valley and daily air strikes on rebel-held areas “are signs of a collapsing truce”.

Mr de Mistura said five villages in the Wadi Barada area have reached an “arrangement” with the government, but two villages, including one which holds the source of water, al-Fijeh, have not.

“There is a danger, a substantial danger, imminent danger, that this may develop into a further military escalation,” further imperilling the water supply, he said.

He also said the ceasefire, which came into effect on December 30, should widen humanitarian access to besieged areas, but “unfortunately, that is not the case”.

The opposition-run Syrian Civil Defence, a search and rescue group also known as the White Helmets, said its workers pulled the bodies of three children and three adults from the rubble of an air strike on the village of Babka in the opposition-held countryside west of the once-contested city of Aleppo.

It was not clear who was behind the raid and others like it in the Aleppo countryside. Syrian and Russian aircraft regularly bombed the province before the ceasefire came into effect.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported four children among the dead.

The raid followed a day of strikes on two opposition pockets outside Damascus.

The strikes on the Ghouta region, where pro-government forces are waging a ground offensive against rebels, were the first since the ceasefire came into effect, according to the Observatory.

Another six civilians were killed in an air strike on the Barada Valley on Wednesday.

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