Aleppo truce is key to reopening Syria talks

Ceasefire is needed to stop Syria from slipping back into remorseless war mode

 

It is being described as a fragile ceasefire. It’s barely that. The violence across Syria over the last few weeks has taken hundreds of lives; in battered Aleppo alone, some 279 have died in the past 12 days, most of them civilians. About two-thirds of those deaths have been on the rebel-held side of the city, predominantly in areas controlled not by the Islamist Nusra Front but by local opposition fighters, some allied to the US.

Attacks are being made by air strikes and by shells dropped from helicopters, including in recent days on a hospital and three health clinics. Primary responsibility is clearly that of Damascus and the regime of Bashar al-Assad which sees the recapturing of Aleppo as a key strategic objective and which continues to refuse to distinguish between Isis-linked groups and other rebels.

Rebels have also been returning fire on government-controlled areas in what has been described by journalists as one of their worst barrages in recent months. Yesterday, they launched a ground assault in which 19 died.

Partial truces have been renewed, however, in several other areas and the Syrian army was yesterday promising it would continue to observe a temporary truce in the suburbs of Damascus and in the coastal province of Latakia – for another 48 hours. Talks about a ceasefire in Aleppo are under way, according to Russian military sources which suggested agreement was possible within hours.

US secretary of state John Kerry and UN special envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, who has described the national ceasefire deal brokered in February as “barely alive”, are involved in intense shuttle diplomacy to restart the broader talks in Geneva on a political settlement.

Mr De Mistura yesterday brought some hope after meeting Russian foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov in Moscow, suggesting that a resumption of such discussions is possible if the truce can be extended to Aleppo. If hostilities cease in Aleppo, he said, then “we will be restarting and pushing also for the humanitarian access and for the intra-Syrian talks. Everything is connected, nothing is a condition but everything is connected”.

A joint US-Russian ceasefire monitoring system staffed by officers from both countries is also being set up in Geneva to track events on the ground.

Meanwhile, the war by the US and its allies against Islamic State continues apace both in Syria and across the border in Iraq. Yesterday, Syria saw four strikes near three cities – Al Shadaddi, Ar Raqqah and Mar’a – an Islamic State finance centre, a weapons storage facility and two tactical units. In Iraq there were seven strikes against Islamic State’s stronghold of Mosul and six others near Falluja.

This remorseless war in Syria, now in its sixth year, has to date taken 400,000 lives.

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