'Monstrous' violence in Syria as government excludes Aleppo from truce
BEIRUT - Reuters
A civilian evacuates a baby from a site hit by airstrikes in the rebel held area of Aleppo's al-Fardous district, Syria, April 29. Reuters photo
Syria called local truces near Damascus and in a northern province on April 29 but no halt to combat on the main battlefield in Aleppo, after a surge in fighting the United Nations said showed "monstrous disregard" for civilian lives.
A new "regime of calm" would begin from 1:00 a.m. on April 30 and last one day in the capital's eastern Ghouta suburb and three days in the northern countryside of the coastal province of Latakia, the army said in a statement.
But by excluding the city of Aleppo, scene of the worst recent violence, the narrow truces were unlikely to resurrect a ceasefire and peace talks that have collapsed this week.
In the worst recent attack, an air strike destroyed a hospital in a rebel-held area overnight on Wednesday-Thursday. The French charity Medecins sans Frontieres, which supported the hospital, said on Friday the death toll had risen to at least 50, including six medics.
A Syrian military source said Aleppo was excluded from the newly announced truces "because in Aleppo there are terrorists who have not stopped hitting the city and its residents ... There are a large number of martyrs in Aleppo, which is why the situation is different there."
Russia's Interfax news agency quoted the officer in charge of a Russian ceasefire monitoring centre as saying the truces meant all military action would cease in the covered areas.
Damascus described the truces as an attempt to salvage a wider "cessation of hostilities" agreement in place since February. That ceasefire, sponsored by Washington and Moscow, allowed peace talks to start but has all but completely collapsed in recent days along with the Geneva negotiations.
Violence was "soaring back to the levels we saw prior to the cessation of hostilities," said United Nations human rights chief Zeid Ra'ad al-Hussein.
"There are deeply disturbing reports of military build-ups indicating preparations for a lethal escalation," Zeid said in a statement that described a "monstrous disregard for civilian lives by all parties to the conflict".
The United Nations has called on Moscow and Washington to help restore the ceasefire to prevent the collapse of peace talks, which broke up this week in Geneva with virtually no progress after the opposition walked out.
"The cessation of hostilities and the Geneva talks were the only game in town, and if they are abandoned now, I dread to think how much more horror we will see in Syria," Zeid said.
The United States said on Friday that it was in discussions with Russia to renew the cessation of hostilities and was seeking a halt to fighting in Latakia and eastern Ghouta as a test case before trying to extend ceasefires throughout the country.
"We are in touch with the opposition and it is our expectation they will comply," State Department spokesman Mark Toner said of the Latakia and Ghouta ceasefires.
Asked why the United States did not try to get a halt to the violence in Aleppo, Toner said, “In part it is a recognition that Aleppo is very complex and the fighting around there is indeed alarming. We need to start somewhere and we’re going to start with Latakia and east Ghouta.”
Aleppo, Syria's largest city before the war, has been divided for years between rebel and government zones. Full control would be the most important prize for President Bashar al-Assad, who has been fighting to keep hold of his country throughout a five-year civil war. U.N. mediator Staffan de Mistura has said that up to 400,000 people have been killed.