Syria truce brings pockets of calm for civilians despite Russian strikes in Aleppo

The truce is the most ambitious attempt yet to halt the spiralling conflict in Syria

Laura Pitel
Sunday 28 February 2016 21:55
Smoke rises after Russian air strikes hit the village of Kafr Hamrah near Aleppo
Smoke rises after Russian air strikes hit the village of Kafr Hamrah near Aleppo

Suspected Russian warplanes have conducted air-raids in north-western Syria on the second day of a shaky international truce.

Rival powers traded accusations about violations of the cessation of hostilities agreed by Washington and Moscow but all sides said they would persevere with the deal, aimed at halting a five-year conflict that has claimed at least 250,000 lives.

Salim al-Muslat, a spokesman for the main Syrian opposition delegation, said the group would complain to the United Nations about alleged Russian air strikes in the northern province of Aleppo and attacks by Hezbollah in the town of Zabadani near the border with Lebanon. The Syrian Civil Defence rescue service claimed that Russian jets also targeted civilian homes in a cluster bomb attack on the Idlib town of Jisr al-Shughur, killing a pregnant woman and injuring 12 others. But Mr al-Muslat told AFP that, despite alleged breaches, the situation in Syria was generally “a lot better than before and people are comfortable.”

The Russian military’s co-ordination centre in Syria said it had information that an artillery attack had been launched from Turkish soil against Kurdish militia in the border town of Tal Abyad. It also reported six instances of shelling in Damascus from areas held by what it called the “moderate opposition” but Lt Gen Sergei Kuralenko, the head of the centre, said that the plan was holding firm “in general”.

The truce is the most ambitious attempt yet to halt the spiralling conflict in Syria, which has caused mass devastation and forced 11 million people from their homes.

Aid agencies hope they will soon be able to deliver food and medicine to the thousands living under siege in areas including Deir al-Zour and the suburbs of Damascus. In Madaya, a town near the Lebanese border besieged by pro-Assad forces for more than six months, activists said that a six-year-old boy, Mohammed Abi Ayoub, died on Saturday from malnourishment. They warned that up to 70 other children in the town were “facing a similar fate”.

The truce came into force at midnight on Friday. On Saturday Russia announced it would ground its airforce after a five-month campaign of bombardment “to avoid any possible mistakes”. However, activists, analysts and Saudi Arabia said that Russian planes on Sunday resumed operations along with Syrian government helicopters and jets.

All parties to the deal agree that jihadist group Isis and al-Qaeda offshoot Jabhat al-Nusra are excluded from it but differences remain over which areas of Syria should be considered legitimate targets for attacks. The opposition complained that it had not been granted access to maps swapped by Russia and the United States or documents explaining the processes for monitoring and violations.

In many areas, however, Syrians marvelled at the calm. Mahmoud Hassan, a civil-society activist in rebel-held eastern Aleppo, said: “People are outside, going for walks, visiting the shops. Especially because the weather is nice and warm.” He said that everyone was praying that the deal would hold. “People are tired. We hate the death and the blood and the carnage. We’ve had enough.”

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