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About 10 Syrian rebel groups announced Monday they were suspending talks about planned peace negotiations this month in the Kazakh capital Astana, due to “violations” by Damascus of a four-day old truce.
“As these violations are continuing, the rebel factions announce… the freezing of all discussion linked to the Astana negotiations,” they said in a joint statement, referring to talks planned for late January organised by Russia, which supports the Syrian regime, and Turkey and Iran which back the rebels.
The rebels said they “respected the ceasefire across the whole of Syria .. but the regime and its allies have not stopped shooting and have launched major and frequent violations, notably in the (rebel) regions of Wadi Barada and Eastern Ghouta”, both in the province of Damascus, they said.
“Despite repeated questions put to the regime’s backer,” Russia, “these violations continue, threatening the lives of hundreds of thousands of people,” said the statement.
For the last two weeks, even before the start of a global truce brokered by Ankara and Moscow with a view to enabling the Astana talks to take place, Syria’s air force has launched almost daily bombing raids on Wadi Barada, some 15 km (10 miles) from Damascus.
The regime of President Bashar al-Assad is trying to seize control of the region which supplies the main drinking water for four million inhabitants of the capital and surrounding areas.
On Monday, the Syrian army and militant Lebanese Shiite group Hezbollah advanced to the outskirts of Ain al-Fijeh, the primary water source in the area, said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitor.
“Any (advance) on the ground goes against the (ceasefire) agreement and if things don’t return to how they were before, the accord will be considered null and void,” added the rebel statement.
The ceasefire, which has been in force since midnight Thursday, is the latest truce in the nearly six-year war which has killed more than 310,000 people.