Syria's Fragile Ceasefire Threatened by New Fighting Near Aleppo

Syrian rebels and the al-Qaeda-affiliated Nusra Front have reportedly mounted a new offensive and seized control of a strategic position south of Aleppo.
April 2, 2016, 9:38pm
A rebel fighter in the southern countryside of Aleppo on March 13, 2016. (Photo by Khalil Ashawi/Reuters)

Syrian rebels and the al-Qaeda-affiliated Nusra Front reportedly mounted a new offensive against Syrian government forces and seized control of a strategic hill south of Aleppo.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a UK-based monitoring group, said the offensive began on Friday, and that Syrian government and allied forces were fighting on Saturday to take back control of the territory and repel further attacks.

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A fragile "cessation of hostilities" truce has held in Syria for over a month as the various parties try to negotiate an end to Syria's five-year-old civil war. The truce excludes Islamic State (IS) and Nusra Front, and air and land attacks by Syrian and allied forces have continued in parts of Syria where the government says the groups are present.

Related: Syrian Ceasefire Sees Popular Backlash Against Al-Qaeda

Friday's attack began with three suicide bombings carried out by Nusra Front south of Talat al-'Iss hill. Rebel and Nusra Front forces then took control of the hill, the Observatory and a Nusra Front statement said.

Nusra Front said in the statement it ambushed government forces as they withdrew toward the town of Hadhar to the east.

The Observatory said the fighting has so far killed dozens of regime forces and at least 16 rebels and Nusra Front members.

Live footage broadcast on pro-opposition Orient News TV on Saturday showed the hill provides a vantage point across a wide area. It also lies near a main highway linking Aleppo to Damascus, Syria's capital, to the south.

"This is the dividing line, the front position of the Syrian army in the southern (Aleppo) countryside," a Syrian military source told Reuters.

"In south Aleppo, armed groups in coordination with Nusra Front attacked some military positions… in the direction of Talat al-'Iss and the surrounding areas. Of course this is a clear breach of the truce," the source said.

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