Syria’s Ceasefire Begins to Fray as Russia Resumes Airstrikes

Smoke is seen across from the Turkish border during clashes in the Syrian city of Tal Abyad on Saturday, in what Russia deemed a violation of the truce by rebels. (PHOTO CREDIT: AFP/Getty Images)
Smoke is seen across from the Turkish border during clashes in the Syrian city of Tal Abyad on Saturday, in what Russia deemed a violation of the truce by rebels. (PHOTO CREDIT: AFP/Getty Images)

Syria’s hard-won truce began to fray Sunday, with Russian warplanes resuming airstrikes on towns and villages in the north and fresh reports of artillery fire across several front lines.

The violence came on only the second day of a planned two-week cessation of hostilities, dimming hopes that the calm that took hold Saturday will endure long enough to inject new impetus into a wider peace effort.

The Russian planes, based in northwestern Syria, struck six towns and villages in the provinces of Aleppo, Hama and Idlib early Sunday, according to monitoring and civil defense groups.

The strikes ended a 24-hour suspension announced by the Russian military on Saturday to coincide with the launch of the truce. They also appeared to signal a return to attacks that preceded the effort to end the fighting, in which Russia has helped bolster the fortunes of President Bashar al-Assad, a longtime ally.

Russia’s Defense Ministry offered no comment on the strikes, but it had warned Saturday that it reserved the right under the terms of the truce to continue hitting the Islamic State and Jabhat al-Nusra, terrorist groups that are battling the Assad regime.

Russian warplanes have in the past repeatedly struck towns loyal to more-moderate rebels, including those backed by the United States, while claiming that they were targeting the Islamic State or Jabhat al-Nusra, which is affiliated with al-Qaeda.

The first half-dozen attacks on Sunday, carried out shortly after 6 a.m., awoke residents in four towns west of Aleppo that lie on the last rebel supply route into the city, according to the White Helmets civil defense group. Videos posted on YouTube showed damage to shops and houses.

Shortly after, bombs struck the town of Harb Nufsa in Hama. On Sunday afternoon, two strikes hit civilian areas of the northern town of Jisr al-Shughour, which is controlled by a coalition of fighters that includes Jabhat al-Nusra. A pregnant woman was killed and 12 people were injured, the White Helmets said.

The total number of strikes was nonetheless significantly lower than in the days preceding the truce, when Russia dropped hundreds of bombs over a wide area of rebel-held territory in an apparent attempt to score last-minute gains. Although artillery and small-arms fire by both sides were reported on a number of front lines, the intensity of the fighting appeared to have eased significantly.

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SOURCE: The Washington Post, Liz Sly