Syrian rebels withdraw from peace talks

Russian military engineers demining eastern areas of Aleppo. Russia and Turkey have jointly brokered a deal that allowed civilians and rebels to leave the Syrian city before it was retaken by the government last month.
Russian military engineers demining eastern areas of Aleppo. Russia and Turkey have jointly brokered a deal that allowed civilians and rebels to leave the Syrian city before it was retaken by the government last month.PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

They accuse government forces of violating ceasefire ahead of Astana meeting

BEIRUT • A dozen Syrian rebel factions have suspended talks on new peace negotiations, accusing President Bashar al-Assad's regime of violating a four-day-old ceasefire with attacks near Damascus that continued yesterday.

The decision threatens the process sponsored by regime ally Russia and rebel backer Turkey, which began with a truce and is meant to lead to negotiations in the Kazakh capital Astana this month.

The ceasefire has brought quiet to large parts of the country but has been undermined by sporadic violence, particularly in the Wadi Barada region north of Damascus.

The area is the main water source for the capital.

Government forces backed by fighters from Lebanon's Hizbollah have continued to press a two- week-old offensive despite the ceasefire which began on Dec 30.

A dozen rebel groups said in a statement late on Monday that they were withdrawing from talks that aim to prepare for the new round of negotiations in Astana. "As these violations are continuing, the rebel factions announce... the freezing of all discussion linked to the Astana negotiations," they said.

 
 
 

The rebels said they "respected the ceasefire across the whole of Syria... but the regime and its allies have not stopped shooting and have launched major and frequent violations, notably in the (rebel) regions of Wadi Barada and Eastern Ghouta", near Damascus.

"If things don't return to how they were before, the accord will be considered null and void," the statement added.

It was signed by a dozen groups, including the Army of Islam, Faylaq al-Sham and the Sultan Murad Brigade, which is close to Turkey.

The fighting in Wadi Barada continued yesterday, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitor said.

The group said government forces were attacking with helicopters and artillery fire after advancing on Monday to the outskirts of the Ain al-Fijeh spring, the main water source in the area.

The Syrian government accuses rebels in Wadi Barada of deliberately targeting infrastructure there, causing fuel to poison the water supply and then cutting the flow to Damascus altogether.

Rebels say government strikes caused the damage, which has left four million people in Damascus without water since Dec 22.

The ceasefire and planned talks are the latest effort to negotiate an end to Syria's conflict, which has killed more than 310,000 people since it began with anti-government protests in March 2011.

Despite backing opposite sides in the conflict, Ankara and Moscow have worked closely of late on the war, jointly brokering a deal that allowed civilians and rebels to leave Aleppo city before it was retaken by the government last month.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 04, 2017, with the headline 'Syrian rebels withdraw from peace talks'. Print Edition | Subscribe