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Violence Flares in Syria as UN Peace Talks Stall

Clashes between rebels and pro-government forces intensified as opposition negotiators are reported to have requested a pause to UN-assembled peace talks in Geneva.

by VICE News
Apr 18 2016, 6:01pm

Photo by Salvatore di Nolfi/EPA

An increase in violence between Syrian rebels and pro-government forces further threatened an already shaky truce on Monday, as opposition negotiators are reported to have requested a pause to UN-assembled peace talks.

Groups from the Western-backed Free Syrian Army coalition and Islamist faction Ahrar al-Sham released a statement over the weekend announcing a new "battle" against pro-government forces amid intensifying clashes around the northern city of Aleppo and a resumption of government airstrikes in Homs province.

Rebels launched attacks in Latakia province as well as Hama on Monday, the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said. The observatory, which gathers information from a network of local sources, previously reported clashes in the rebel-held Damascus suburb of Eastern Ghouta.

The Syrian Network for Human Rights, a separate organization, said at least four civilians had been killed by government airstrikes in Homs on Monday and another 18 died in strikes by government and allied Russian aircraft in Deir Ezzor, Idlib, and Homs on Sunday. Four children were also reportedly killed when opposition forces shelled Aleppo's Salah al-Din district on the same day.

The violence is some of the most significant since a US- and Russia-brokered cease in hostilities was implemented on February 27 in attempt to facilitate indirect UN peace talks currently underway in Geneva.

But a member of the opposition High Negotiations Committee told AFP on Monday that they had asked UN envoy Staffan de Mistura to pause negotiations until the Syrian government showed a commitment to compromise on political transition and humanitarian issues. The committee had threatened to walk out of the talks completely on Sunday.

"We asked for the postponement of talks, only a postponement until the conditions are right," Mohammad al-Aboud, a member of the negotiating team, told Reuters.

Opposition negotiators are demanding that President Bashar al-Assad step down, but government officials have repeatedly refused to budge on his ouster, describing it as "a red line."

On Sunday chief opposition negotiator Mohammed Alloush accused the government of taking advantage of the cessation of hostilities to seize territory, and called for rebels to "strike" at government forces, remarks he later said were intended to encourage defense against ceasefire violations by government troops.