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Syrian rebels reverse government gains in Aleppo stalemate

Rebels shelled Maysaf, a government stronghold near the central city of Hama, for the second day in a row.

By: AP | Beirut | Published: September 25, 2016 8:15:04 pm
syria, syria war, syrian war, syria rebels, syrian rebels, syria government, syrian government, aleppo, aleppo syria, syria situation, syria news, world news In this photo provided by the Syrian Civil Defense group known as the White Helmets, shows Syrians inspect damaged buildings after airstrikes hit in Aleppo. (Source: AP)

A broad coalition of Syrian rebels denounced international negotiations for peace as “meaningless” on Sunday, as the UN Security Council prepared to convene an emergency meeting about the spiraling violence in Syria. The meeting, set for 11 am Eastern time, was requested by the United States, Britain, and France, as pro-government forces extend their bombardment of the contested city of Aleppo. They are widely believed to be accompanied by Russian air strikes.

Rebels meanwhile shelled Maysaf, a government stronghold near the central city of Hama, for the second day in a row, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group. Maysaf is home to a large number of Alawites, members of President Bashar Assad’s sect. Assad has rallied Syria’s minorities behind his government behind fears of the Sunni-dominated rebellion. The US, Britain, and France are aligned on the Security Council against Russia and China, which back Assad in the country’s protracted war, now in its sixth year.

The Observatory, which relies on a network of contacts inside Syria, said Sunday that 213 civilians have been killed by airstrikes and shelling on opposition areas in and around Aleppo since a US-Russian brokered cease-fire collapsed Monday evening. The statement released jointly by 33 factions Sunday called on the government and Russian forces to halt airstrikes and lift sieges on opposition areas. The UN estimates 600,000 Syrians are trapped in various sieges enforced by the government, rebels, and the Islamic State group across the country.

“Negotiations under the present conditions are no longer useful and are meaningless,” the statement said. The factions said they would not accept to have Russia mediate any negotiations, calling it a “partner to the regime in the crimes against our people.” The statement was signed by some of the largest factions from across Syria but did not include the powerful, ultraconservative Ahrar al-Sham nor the al-Qaida-linked Fatah Sham Front.

Efforts to revive the truce have floundered. An airstrike destroyed a UN-backed humanitarian convoy Monday inside opposition territory shortly after the Syrian military announced the agreement had expired. The UN says the attack could amount to a war crime if proven deliberate, though it has not assigned responsibility yet. The US says it believes Russian jets were behind the strikes. Rebels Sunday retook an area in Aleppo that fell to government forces the day before, extending a punishing stalemate in the contested northern city.

The Observatory says rebels seized Handarat, a largely uninhabited former Palestinian refugee camp, early Sunday a day after it was lost to government forces. The camp has changed hands multiple times and is largely devastated and abandoned. The area is near Castello Road, a vital supply route to the city’s besieged rebel-held areas. Government forces seized the Castello Road earlier this year, besieging rebel-held districts where some 250,000 people reside. Yasser al-Yousef, a spokesman for the Nour el-Din al-Zinki rebel faction, says rebels seized Handarat late Saturday night.

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