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One dead in Syrian airstrikes

AAP logoAAP 3/01/2017

The Russian and Turkish-brokered ceasefire in Syria was "passing through a critical period," with airstrikes on rebel strongholds and government forces massing near a rebel-held area outside Damascus, a monitoring group said on Tuesday.

In the first civilian death in an airstrike since the ceasefire went into effect on Friday, a woman was killed in the north-central town of Khan Sheikhoun, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

Raids also hit the Wadi Barada area north-west of Damascus, with government allies moving reinforcements to the area, the observatory said.

The capital's source of water, the Ein al-Fijeh spring, is located in the area. Water supplies to Damascus were cut off 12 days ago after the government launched its offensive on the area, with both sides trading blame for the cut.

Government forces advanced close to the spring in fighting on Tuesday afternoon, observatory director Rami Abdel-Rahman said.

Later, fresh raids by unidentified planes hit near Sarmada, in the rebel stronghold of Idlib province in north-western Syria, the Britain-based observatory said.

It added initial reports indicated that the planes hit the headquarters of the Jaish al-Fatah rebel alliance that controls the province, with no immediate reports of casualties.

Jaish al-Fatah is dominated by the hardline Islamist Ahrar al-Sham group and by the al-Qaeda-linked Fatah al-Sham Front. The latter is excluded from the terms of the ceasefire as the UN has designated it a terrorist organisation.

A number of Fatah al-Sham members and other leading Syrian jihadists were reportedly killed in drone strikes in the region in recent days.

Tuesday's violence came after 12 Syrian rebel groups announced overnight that they would "freeze" all discussions on peace talks planned by Russia and Turkey in the Kazakh capital Astana due to ceasefire breaches by the government side.

The rebel statement hit out at government ally Russia, charging that its failure to ensure the government side abided by the truce made them wonder about "its ability to impose any other obligations related to the agreement on the regime and its allies."

Russia was "not capable of implementing the ceasefire," one rebel official alleged.

"From the beginning we backed the ceasefire agreement, but we knew that the Russians were not capable of implementing it, as the breaches were carried out by their allies and the Iranian militias," Yasser al-Youssuf of the Nour al-Din al-Zenki rebel group told dpa.

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