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Rebels target Damascus as cease-fire continues to fray

By SLOBODAN LEKIC | STARS AND STRIPES Published: April 23, 2016

DAMASCUS, Syria — At least one civilian was killed and another injured Saturday when rebels fired several mortar rounds into a heavily Christian area of eastern Damascus, the government said.

The attack, the first to hit the Syrian capital since the cease-fire between government forces and the rebels went into effect on Feb. 27, was another sign that the truce may be unraveling. It coincided with a walkout by the main Syrian opposition alliance, the Saudi-backed High Negotiations Committee, from peace talks in Geneva aimed at ending the five-year conflict.

In the past two months, fighting around Damascus has abated significantly, although forces loyal to President Bashar Assad have continued to target militants belonging to the Nusra Front, an al-Qaida affiliate, and the Islamic State. Both are considered terrorist groups and are not included in the cease-fire.

“Terrorists have launched several mortar bombs on Adawi Street and 29th of March Street,” the Interior Ministry said in a statement. Both are located in eastern Damascus, near the front lines. SANA, the Syrian state news agency, reported that a boy was killed and a woman injured in the attack.

The area next to the front lines in Damascus, known as Eastern Ghouta, is under control of a coalition of rebel groups headed by Jaish al-Islam, or Army of Islam, one of the main and best-armed Islamist militias.

Since the cease-fire took effect, each side has repeatedly accused the other of breaching it.

But in the past week there has been an uptick in violence around Aleppo, where the rebels have accused government forces and their Russian allies of bombing their positions. Russia has countered by calling on the moderate rebels to disassociate themselves from Nusra Front fighters, with whom they are intermingled on the battlefields.

Secretary of State John Kerry warned that Russia had been moving heavy artillery into position near Aleppo, raising concerns that the cease-fire might soon collapse, The New York Times reported Friday. He said the Russians might be moving forces into the area because Nusra Front militants were “mixed” with insurgent groups that were opposed to Assad but that had agreed to the cease-fire, according to the report.

More than 250,000 people have died in the multifront war that started in 2011.

lekic.slobodan@stripes.com‎

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