Air raids on Syria after US-Russia truce deal

Pact expected to come into force tomorrow; it is not clear who carried out strikes, which killed 24

Residents inspect a damaged site after airstrikes on a market in the rebel controlled city of Idlib on Sept 10, 2016.
Residents inspect a damaged site after airstrikes on a market in the rebel controlled city of Idlib on Sept 10, 2016.PHOTO: REUTERS

BEIRUT• • Air strikes on a market in the rebel-held north-western city of Idlib yesterday killed 24 people, a monitoring group said, a day after Russia and the United States agreed on a truce for Syria.

It was not immediately clear who carried out the raids, which also hit several neighbourhoods in Idlib and wounded at least 90 people, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said. The British-based group could not immediately confirm how many of the casualties were civilians, saying some bodies "were burnt beyond recognition".

The Syrian opposition yesterday cautiously welcomed the ceasefire deal agreed by Moscow and Washington that could also see the first joint military campaign by the two powers against militants.

United States Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said that the truce, reached in Geneva late last Friday, would come into force tomorrow, a Muslim holiday.

The two powers back opposing sides in the conflict, with Moscow supporting the regime of President Bashar al-Assad and Washington backing a coalition of rebels it regards as moderate.

But if Russia is able to persuade Mr Assad to respect the ceasefire for a week, Moscow and Washington will set up a joint coordination unit to bomb agreed terrorist targets.

A leading member of the High Negotiations Committee said the opposition umbrella group cautiously welcomed the agreement.

"We welcome the deal if it is going to be enforced," said Ms Bassma Kodmani.

"We are waiting for Russia to persuade the regime that it is necessary to commit to this agreement," she added.

The much-anticipated - if tentative - breakthrough came after marathon talks between Mr Lavrov and Mr Kerry in Geneva, as the pair push for an end to the five-year war that has killed 290,000.

Both Mr Kerry and Mr Lavrov said the complex plan is the best available chance to end fighting between the regime and mainstream rebels, while still targeting militants from former Al-Qaeda affiliate Al-Nusra Front, and the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.

Mr Kerry said: "Today, the United States and Russia are announcing a plan which we hope will reduce violence, ease suffering and resume movement towards a negotiated peace and a political transition in Syria."

Mr Lavrov said the US and Russia agreed on zones in which joint "strikes against terrorists" would be conducted.

The vexed question of Mr Assad's fate remains, with Western powers calling for his ouster and Russia backing him.

Key to the deal is the delivery of desperately needed aid to civilians in rebel-held areas of Syria's second city, Aleppo, that are under siege by government forces.

Russia also needs to persuade the Syrian air force to stop strikes on rebel-held areas, which have killed large numbers of civilians.

In turn, Washington must get opposition groups it backs to separate themselves from the former Al-Nusra Front, now called Fateh al-Sham Front, which has allied itself with a range of rebels at different points in the fluid conflict.

Ms Kodmani said the rebels would break ranks with the militants if the truce deal held.

"The moderate groups will reorganise and distance themselves from the radical groups. We will do our part," she said.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on September 11, 2016, with the headline 'Air raids on Syria after US-Russia truce deal'. Print Edition | Subscribe