Saturday, February 17, 2018

Attacks in Syria flout cease-fire

BEIRUT, Lebanon — Syria's air force fired missiles and dropped barrel bombs on rebel strongholds while opposition fighters attacked regime positions Sunday, flouting a U.N.-backed cease-fire that was supposed to quiet fighting over a long holiday weekend but never took hold.

The failure to push through a truce is a reflection of the international community's inability to ease 19 months of bloodshed in Syria. It also suggests that the civil war will drag on, threatening to draw in Syria's neighbors such as Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan.

"This conflict has now taken a dynamic of its own which should be worrying to everyone," said Salman Shaikh, director of the Brookings Doha Center think tank.

The United Nations tried to broker a halt to fighting over the four-day Eid al-Adha Muslim feast that began on Friday, one of the holiest times of the Islamic calendar. But the truce was violated almost immediately after it was supposed to take effect, the same fate other cease-fires in Syria have met.

At least 110 people were killed Sunday, a toll similar to previous days, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which compiles information from activists in Syria.

Syrian warplanes struck the eastern Damascus suburbs of Arbeen, Harasta and Zamalka to try to drive out rebels, according to activists in those areas.

In Douma, another Damascus suburb, rebels seized three positions, including an unfinished high-rise building that had been used by snipers, according to the Observatory and Mohammed Saeed, a local activist.

Fighting was also reported near Maaret al-Numan, a strategic town along the Aleppo-Damascus highway that rebels seized this month. Opposition fighters have also besieged a nearby military base. The Observatory said the Syrian air force fired missiles and dropped barrel bombs — makeshift weapons made of explosives stuffed into barrels — near the base.

The cease-fire was seen as a long shot from the outset. International peace envoy Lakhdar Brahimi failed to get firm commitments from all combatants, and no mechanism to monitor violations was put in place.

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