Syrian warplanes strike near Damascus during fragile truce

Syrians walk past a destroyed building in the rebel-held town of Douma, on the eastern outskirts of Damascus, on December 30, 2016, on the first day of a nationwide truce. Clashes erupted between Syrian government forces and opposition fighters in an area outside Damascus, despite a nationwide truce that began at midnight, a monitor said. (AFP photo)
Updated 02 January 2017
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Syrian warplanes strike near Damascus during fragile truce

BEIRUT: Syrian government warplanes resumed their bombardment of a rebel-held valley near Damascus on Sunday after nearly 24 hours with no air raids, a rebel official and monitors said, during the third day of a fragile cease-fire.
The truce deal, brokered by Russia and Turkey which back opposing sides in the conflict and welcomed unanimously by the United Nations Security Council, has been repeatedly violated since it began, with warring sides trading the blame.
Rebels on Saturday warned they would abandon the truce if the government side continued to violate it, asking the Russians, who support President Bashar Assad, to rein in army and militia attacks in the valley by 8 p.m.
Bombardments ceased before that time — although some clashes continued — but began again late on Sunday.
It was not immediately clear if the rebels would abandon the truce as a result. Like previous Syria cease-fire deals it has been shaky from the start with repeated outbreaks of violence in some areas, but has largely held elsewhere.
The raids hit areas of Wadi Barada, where government forces and their allies launched an operation more than a week ago, a spokesman for the Jaish Al-Nasr rebel group and the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
There was a “fierce attack and attempt by Assad and Shiite militias to raid Wadi Barada” from nearby hills, the rebel spokesman, Mohammed Rasheed, said.
State media and the Observatory said hundreds of people had left Wadi Barada in the past day for government-controlled areas nearby.
Earlier on Sunday government warplanes carried out several air strikes in the southern Aleppo countryside, the Observatory and rebel officials said.
Government forces also advanced overnight against rebels in the Eastern Ghouta area near Damascus, seizing 10 farms, the Observatory said.
A second rebel official suggested that low-level clashes on the ground would not necessarily derail the truce, but that air strikes were a “clear violation.”
Russia’s defense ministry has accused the insurgents in turn of violating the cease-fire numerous times.
A military news outlet run by Lebanese group Hezbollah, an ally of Assad, said the Syrian army had been targeting militants from the former Nusra Front both in southern Aleppo province and in Wadi Barada.
The army has said the group, previously Al-Qaeda’s Syria branch, is not included in the cease-fire deal but rebels say it is — just one point of friction and confusion in the deal which could lead to its collapse.
The latest truce agreement is the first not to involve the United States or the United Nations — a reflection of Moscow’s growing diplomatic influence after a long campaign of Russian air strikes helped Assad recapture the northern city of Aleppo last month.
That victory has greatly strengthened the president’s position as the warring sides prepare for peace talks in the Kazakh capital Astana this month.


Israeli air strikes target Gaza Strip ‘terror targets’ after rocket fire

Updated 34 min 40 sec ago
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Israeli air strikes target Gaza Strip ‘terror targets’ after rocket fire

GAZA STRIP: Israel’s military said it was carrying out air strikes “throughout the Gaza Strip” to strike “terror targets” on Monday after a barrage of mortar and rocket fire from the Palestinian enclave toward its territory wounded six people.

A number of rockets were launched from the Gaza Strip toward Israel, while Israel’s army said an Israeli bus was hit by fire from the Palestinian enclave.

Israeli medics say a 19-year-old man was critically wounded in the attack, the man apparently sustained the wounds in a mortar attack from Gaza that struck the bus. Black smoke could be seen billowing into the air from the area of the mortar strike.

A picture taken from the Gaza Strip on November 12, 2018 shows missiles being launched toward Israel. (AFP)

The flare-up comes after a clash that erupted during an Israeli special forces operation in the Gaza Strip late on Sunday that killed eight people, including an Israeli officer.

Hamas, which runs the Gaza Strip, vowed revenge for the attack and claimed to fire mortars and rockets from Gaza.

A picture taken from the Gaza Strip on November 12, 2018 shows missiles being launched toward Israel. A number of rockets were launched from the Gaza Strip toward Israel. (AFP)

The renewed violence was threatening to derail weeks of efforts to end unrest along the Gaza-Israel border.

The dead from the incident late Sunday included an Israeli army officer and a local commander for Hamas's armed wing. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu cut short a trip to Paris and rushed home as tensions rose.

Israel and Palestinian militants in Gaza have fought three wars since 2008 and recent unrest has raised fears of a fourth.