Fresh fighting in Syria as truce unravels

Syrian pro-regime fighters patrolling the Ramousah area, south of the city of Aleppo, yesterday. Syrian state media and a television station controlled by its Lebanese ally Hezbollah said that the army had recaptured a fertiliser factory in the Ramou
Syrian pro-regime fighters patrolling the Ramousah area, south of the city of Aleppo, yesterday. Syrian state media and a television station controlled by its Lebanese ally Hezbollah said that the army had recaptured a fertiliser factory in the Ramousah area.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Violence flares again as rebels battle pro-government forces

BEIRUT • A ceasefire brokered by the United States and Russia that was meant to clear the way for talks on ending Syria's civil war appeared to have all but collapsed yesterday as Syrian rebels and pro-government forces battled each other on major front lines near Aleppo and Hama, and air strikes reportedly killed a dozen people, including four medical workers.

The unravelling of the ceasefire, the latest effort to halt a humanitarian disaster in the country's 51/2-year civil war, highlighted the difficulties of waging diplomacy in a conflict where so few of the parties involved see eye to eye.

The United Nations (UN) Security Council was due to hold a high-level meeting on Syria yesterday.

The renewed battles follow fresh fighting and bombardments on Monday, including an attack on an aid convoy which US officials believe was carried out by Russian jets.

The attack on the aid convoy, which the Syrian Red Crescent said killed the head of its local office and around 20 other people, brought furious international condemnation.

Russia's defence ministry released drone footage late on Tuesday that it said showed a pickup, carrying militants and hauling a heavy mortar, driving alongside the convoy before it was bombed.

Tensions between the US and Russia were already on edge over a Sept 17 attack by the US-led coalition that killed dozens of Syrian soldiers in the eastern Deir Ezzor province.

The ceasefire deal was supposed to bring seven days of quiet and allow humanitarian aid to be delivered to trapped civilians. Russia and the US would then share intelligence to coordinate air strikes against Islamic State in Iraq and Syria and other hardline militants.

That plan, which the Pentagon has appeared wary of, exposes a fundamental flaw: US promises of cooperation with Russia have raised suspicion among the opposition, which sees Washington as no longer acting in its interests.

But US Secretary of State John Kerry insisted that the ceasefire was "not dead", after a short meeting of the 23-nation International Syria Support Group in New York, where world leaders have gathered for the UN General Assembly.

Overnight fighting was focused in areas that control access to Aleppo city, where the rebel-held east has been encircled by government forces, aided by Russian air power and Iran-backed militia, for all but a few weeks since July.

Syrian state media and a TV station controlled by its Lebanese ally Hezbollah said the army had recaptured a fertiliser factory in the Ramousah area to the south-west of the city.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a monitoring body, confirmed the advance and said government forces had pressed forward near an apartment complex nearby.

A rebel fighter in the Aleppo area said warplanes had been bombing all night in preparation for an attack.

A Syrian military source said insurgent groups were mobilising to the south and west of Aleppo, and in the northern Hama area.

The army reported carrying out air strikes on seven areas near Aleppo.

The Observatory said an air strike killed four medical workers and at least nine rebel fighters in the insurgent-held town of Khan Touman, south of Aleppo, saying the rebels were part of the Islamist alliance Jaish al-Fatah.

BLOOMBERG, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 22, 2016, with the headline 'Fresh fighting in Syria as truce unravels'. Print Edition | Subscribe