Syrian rebels vow tough reply to truce violations

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Syrian rebels vow tough reply to truce violations
Civil defence members look for survivors after an airstrike on the rebel-held Old Aleppo in Syria

Beirut - Threat casts doubt on future of Geneva peace talks


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Published: Tue 19 Apr 2016, 12:00 AM

Last updated: Tue 19 Apr 2016, 9:01 AM

Key Syrian rebel groups vowed on Monday to strike back against alleged regime ceasefire violations, casting doubt on the future of fragile peace talks due to resume in Geneva.
A truce agreed in February dramatically curtailed violence across much of Syria, but fighting has surged in recent days around second city Aleppo, causing tens of thousands to flee.
"After the increase of violations by regime forces that included targeting displaced people and continuous bombing of residential neighbourhoods, we declare the start of the battle in response," said a statement signed by 10 armed rebel groups.
In Geneva, where regime and opposition delegations were set to restart indirect negotiations, Syria's main rebel delegation warned that renewed fighting could scupper peace talks.
"We might suspend (our participation in) the talks if things carry on this way, and then there will be no prospect for any political solution," HNC member Abdulhakim Bashar told. The landmark ceasefire agreed between the United States and Russia took effect on February 27, raising hopes that a lasting deal could be struck in Geneva to end Syria's five-year civil war.
But fighting has spread in the last week around Aleppo, leading the HNC to question President Bashar Al Assad's commitment to a political solution to a conflict that has displaced half of the population and killed more than 270,000 people. "The humanitarian situation is continually deteriorating, the issue of the detainees has not seen any progress, the ceasefire has almost collapsed, and now there is an attack on Aleppo from three sides," Bashar said in Switzerland.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group said 22 civilians were killed over the weekend in Aleppo city - one of the highest single tolls since the truce began. At least six civilians were killed and eight wounded in regime air strikes on rebel-held eastern parts of the city on Saturday. A barrage of rockets and sniper fire by opposition groups onto government-controlled western districts killed 16 civilians, including 10 children and two women.
And rebel groups fired more rockets at western areas of Aleppo city late Sunday, but there was no immediate information on new casualties.
"There's a clear escalation. This was the bloodiest incident in Aleppo and its province" since the ceasefire began, Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman said. "This escalation directly threatens the truce."
Among the armed groups who signed the Monday statement is Jaish Al Islam, the most important opposition faction in East Ghouta, a key rebel-held town east of Damascus. Mohammed Alloush, the HNC's chief negotiator in Geneva, is a senior member of Jaish Al Islam who on Sunday called on rebel groups to "strike" regime positions. "Don't trust the regime and don't wait for their pity," he posted on Twitter.

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