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Russia casts doubt on ceasefire deal; Syrian army gains ground in Aleppo

Russia casts doubt on ceasefire deal; Syrian army gains ground in Aleppo

MUNICH: Russia said on Saturday a Syria ceasefire plan was more likely to fail than succeed, as Syrian government forces backed by Russian air strikes took rebel ground near Aleppo and set their sights on the militant Islamic State (IS) group’s stronghold of Raqqa province.

International divisions over Syria surfaced anew at a Munich conference where Russia rejected French charges that it was bombing civilians, just a day after world powers agreed on the “cessation of hostilities” due to begin in a week’s time.

US Secretary of State John Kerry reiterated accusations that Russia was hitting “legitimate opposition groups” and civilians with its bombing campaign in Syria and said Moscow must change its targets to respect the ceasefire deal.

The conflict, reshaped by Russia’s intervention last September, has gone into an even higher gear since the United Nations sought to revive peace talks. These were suspended earlier this month in Geneva before they got off the ground.

In another sign of that escalation, Turkey’s military shelled Kurdish militia targets near the northern Syrian town of Azaz on Saturday, a Turkish military source said.

A Kurdish official said the shelling targeted the Menagh air base in the northern Aleppo countryside, which he said had been captured by the Kurdish-allied Jaysh al-Thuwwar group.

The Syrian army also looked poised to advance into the IS-held province of Raqqa for the first time since 2014, apparently to pre-empt any move by Saudi Arabia to send ground forces into Syria to fight the insurgents.

Published in Dawn, February 14th, 2016

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