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More deaths in Aleppo as Obama calls for ‘reinstated’ Syria truce

By AFP - Apr 24,2016 - Last updated at Apr 24,2016

Smoke is seen rising on a main road in the Salaheddin neighbourhood of Syria’s northern city of Aleppo following a reported air strike on Sunday (AFP photo)

ALEPPO, Syria — Regime and rebel bombardment killed 26 civilians on Sunday in Syria's second city Aleppo as US President Barack Obama urged the conflict's warring parties to "reinstate" a troubled ceasefire.

Eight weeks into the declared truce between President Bashar Assad's regime and non-extremist rebels, violence has escalated around Aleppo, with dozens killed by government air strikes and rebel rockets.

The surge in fighting and stalled peace talks in Geneva have dimmed hopes that the ceasefire would lay the groundwork for finally resolving Syria's devastating five-year conflict.

On Sunday, Obama said he had spoken to his Russian counterpart — a key Assad ally — to try to shore up the truce.

"I spoke to President Vladimir Putin early last week to try to make sure that we could reinstate the cessation of hostilities," he told reporters in Germany.

After at least 27 reported civilian deaths in regime bombardment across Syria on Saturday, a fresh barrage of air strikes hit Aleppo around midday Sunday.

Twelve civilians died after a strike hit an open-air fruit and vegetable market, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group said.

An AFP photographer saw a man in a bright-blue cap carrying a shell-shocked, bleeding and barefoot young boy.


'Attack on Geneva process' 


Emergency responders, known as White Helmets, told AFP they were "exhausted" by the past three days of bombing in Aleppo city.

"We're back to working 24-hour shifts after we started working shorter hours because of the truce," one volunteer said.

According to the observatory, four more civilians died on Sunday in strikes on other opposition neighbourhoods.

In Aleppo’s western government-held parts, 10 civilians including a woman and two children were killed early Sunday by rebel rocket fire, the observatory said.

While officials have yet to declare the ceasefire dead, observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman said the escalating violence in Aleppo and elsewhere meant it had effectively collapsed.

Peace negotiations due to continue in Geneva until Wednesday have faltered after Syria’s main opposition group last week suspended its official participation in the talks.

The High Negotiations Committee walked away from negotiations in frustration at the devastating humanitarian situation on the ground.

“The Assad regime’s bombing offensive is not only a brutal attack on Syrians, but an attack on the Geneva process that is the only possible pathway to peace,” HNC spokesman Salem Al Meslet said on Sunday in an e-mailed statement.

“These negotiations resumed on the basis of a cessation of hostilities, but for increasing numbers of our citizens there is an escalation of regime violence.”

The truce, brokered by Russia and the United States, was part of the biggest diplomatic push yet to resolve Syria’s conflict, which began in March 2011 with widespread anti-Assad protests.

It has since spiralled into a multifront war that has killed 270,000 people and drawn in regional and world powers.


Ground troops ‘a mistake’ 


In an interview with the BBC aired Sunday, Obama warned Western governments should not send troops to topple Assad’s regime.

“Syria has been a heartbreaking situation of enormous complexity, and I don’t think there are any simple solutions,” he said in London.

“It would be a mistake for the United States, or Great Britain, or a combination of Western states to send in ground troops and overthrow the Assad regime.”

He urged all parties “to sit down at the table and try to broker a transition”.

Obama first urged Assad to step down in August 2011 but has resisted calls by critics to use American military force to end the Syrian regime’s rule.

Washington did, however, launch air strikes in mid-2014 against the Daesh terror group after it seized large parts of Syria and neighbouring Iraq.

Daesh has suffered several major defeats in Syria’s north at the hands of the Kurdish People’s Protection Forces (YPG) and allied groups.

But in the northeastern city of Qamishli this week, Kurdish militia turned their weapons on Syrian government forces in a rare bout of fighting between the two sides.

The clashes began Wednesday with a scuffle at a checkpoint and, according to Kurdish security forces, have killed 17 civilians, 10 Kurdish fighters and 31 regime troops and allied militiamen.

Kurdish security forces said they had also arrested 102 members of pro-regime forces. 

After several days of mediation, regime officials and Kurdish representatives agreed Sunday to swap an unspecified number of prisoners and to maintain a local truce.


Kurds will keep the positions they seized during the clashes, including a prison, the source said. 

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