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US, Russia scramble to save Syria truce

(FILES) This file photo taken on February 24, 2016 shows Syrian government forces inpsecting a house damaged in fighting in the Syrian city of Daraya, southwest of the capital Damascus.  Under international pressure, Syria's government has agreed to partial aid access for thousands of civilians living under regime siege but one town near Damascus remains a "thorn in its side": Daraya. Despite appeals from its residents, the United Nations and rights groups, Syria's government has steadfastly refused to allow aid convoys into the town, most recently in a dramatic 11th-hour rejection earlier this month. / AFP PHOTO / YOUSSEF KARWASHAN

 

Beirut / AFP

Washington and Moscow scrambled to salvage Syria’s shaky ceasefire on Tuesday as the country reeled from extremist bombings that killed more than 160 people in President Bashar Al Assad’s coastal
heartland.
A regime offensive outside the capital has severely strained an already fragile nationwide ceasefire between the regime and non-jihadist rebels intended to pave the way for peace talks to end the five-year conflict.
The latest attempts to salvage the truce come after at least 161 people were killed in car bombings and suicide attacks on Monday in the northwestern cities of Jableh and Tartus that were claimed by the IS group.
The US envoy for Syria late Monday urged rebels to respect the February 27 ceasefire after they gave its brokers—Washington and Moscow—until Tuesday afternoon to stop the advance on rebel bastions outside Damascus.
“We recognise that the CoH (Cessation of Hostilities) is under severe stress, but believe that to abandon it now would be strategic error,” Michael Ratney said in a statement on Twitter.
“If the armed factions abandoned the CoH, Assad and his supporters would claim this gives them licence to attack all the opposition forces without international objection.”
Twenty-nine rebel groups had called on Washington and Moscow to force Assad’s regime “to completely and immediately halt their brutal offensive against Daraya and Eastern Ghouta” near Damascus.

New ‘regime of silence’
Syria’s army, backed by Lebanon’s Shiite militia Hezbollah, on Thursday recaptured the town of Deir Al Assafir and nine nearby villages in the south of Eastern Ghouta. The town of Daraya was one of the first to erupt in demonstrations against the government in 2011. It has been under a strict regime siege since late 2012.
Staunch regime ally Russia late Monday called for a temporary local truce in Eastern Ghouta and Daraya—within the wider nationwide ceasefire—from Tuesday.
“The Russian reconciliation centre is calling for a 72-hour regime of silence in Eastern Ghouta and Daraya,” Russia’s defence ministry quoted the head of the Russian coordination centre in Syria, Sergei Kuralenko, as saying.
The February ceasefire does not include the IS group and its extremist rival, Syria’s Al-Qaeda affiliate, Al-Nusra Front.
Kuralenko reiterated Moscow’s call for moderate rebels to withdraw from areas controlled by the Al-Nusra Front and break ranks with the extremists, saying Russia would keep targeting the militants.

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