x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Syrian rebels say truce is over as two-day death toll hits 200

Fighting rages across Syria as air raids strikr near Damascus and in the north and the death toll rose to nearly 200 in two days since the ceasefire was due to take effect.

A  Syrian man on the rubble of a destroyed building on the outskirts of  Damascus.
A Syrian man on the rubble of a destroyed building on the outskirts of Damascus.

DAMASCUS // Rebel fighters declared the Eid truce over yesterday as fighting raged across Syria, air raids struck near Damascus and in the north and the death toll rose to nearly 200 in two days since the ceasefire was due to take effect.

The Syrian regime blamed rebels for breaking the truce but opposition fighters said they were defending civilans from army attacks.

"This initiative was dead before it started," said Abdel Jabbar Al Okaidi, head of the Free Syrian Army military council in Aleppo.

"I was on several fronts yesterday and the army did not stop shelling. Our mission is to defend the people, it is not us who are attacking."

The international community should stop putting faith in the regime of Bashar Al Assad, Mr Okaidi said. "The Syrian people have become guinea pigs. Every time there is an envoy who tries an initiative, while we know the regime will not respect it." Rami Abdel Rahman, director of the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said: "The truce is dead. We can no longer talk of a truce."

Syrian warplanes bombed a building in the Damascus suburb of Arbeen, killing at least eight people in the first air raid since the ceasefire proposed by the United Nations-Arab League envoy Lakhdar Brahimi was supposed to take effect on Friday.

The attack followed a day of car bombs and clashes that left 146 dead, according to activist tallies.

The Syrian army accused rebels of committing increasing violations of the truce and vowed to fight back. "For the second day, terrorist groups continued to flagrantly violate the ceasefire announced and respected by the army command," the military said. "The army will continue to track this increase of violations … and fight back against these criminal acts."

Friday's death toll included 11 in a car bomb in a residential area of Damascus, on par with the daily death tolls preceding the ceasefire.

Another air strike hit near the Wadi Deif military base in the northwestern province of Idlib, where rebel forces have been battling for control.

The Eid holiday had started on Friday with a slowdown in the fighting - and state television footage of Mr Al Assad smiling and chatting with worshippers at a Damascus mosque - but quickly degenerated.

The Observatory, a key monitor of the conflict, said 146 people were killed in bombings and fighting on Friday: 53 civilians, 50 rebels and 43 members of Mr Al Assad's forces.

Yesterday, violence killed at least another 48 people, the Observatory said, amid clashes and attacks in Damascus province, Aleppo, Idlib, Daraa in the south and the eastern city of Deir Ezzor.

Among the dead were five killed in a car-bomb attack in Deir Ezzor. State television blamed the attack on "terrorists" and said the bomb had gone off in front of a church, causing significant damage.

According to the Observatory, more than 35,000 people have been killed in the conflict, which began as an anti-regime uprising but is now a civil war pitting mainly Sunni rebels against Al Assad's regime dominated by his minority Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shiite Islam.

The Observatory relies on a countrywide network of activists, lawyers and medical staff in civilian and military hospitals. It says its tolls take into account civilian, military, and rebel casualties.

Al Assad's forces and the FSA had both agreed to a call by Mr Brahimi to lay down their arms for the Eid holiday, but both also reserved the right to respond to attacks.

The rapid unravelling of the effort to achieve even a temporary peace is the latest setback to attempts to end Syria's civil war through diplomacy. Mr Brahimi had hoped the truce might lead to a more permanent ceasefire during which he could push for a political solution and bring aid to stricken areas of the country.

Observers also raised concerns yesterday of a new front opening in the conflict after reports of clashes between rebels and Kurdish militia on Friday that left 30 dead.

The fighting between rebels and the Kurdish Democratic Union Party, the Syrian branch of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), took place in the majority Kurdish neighbourhood of Ashrafiyeh in Aleppo, the Observatory said.

* The Associated Press with additional reporting by Agence France-Presse