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article imageDeadly strike hits Syria rebel town despite truce

By AFP     Jul 25, 2017 in World

An air strike killed eight civilians, half of them children, and wounded dozens more late Monday in a rebel-held region near the Syrian capital where a fragile truce was declared at the weekend.

A Russian military official said there were no air strikes in the ceasefire zone in the Eastern Ghouta region, calling reports to the contrary "a complete lie".

The strike hit the town of Arbin in the Eastern Ghouta rebel enclave at around 11:30 pm (2030 GMT), residents said.

At least four children and one woman were among the dead, according to medics and the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

Observatory chief Rami Abdel Rahman said either government warplanes or those of its Russian ally carried out the strike, which also wounded at least 30 people.

The truce announced for Eastern Ghouta on Saturday was the second thrashed out under an agreement struck by government allies Iran and Russia and rebel backer Turkey in May.

The army said it would observe an indefinite freeze on fighting with rebels in the region.

But the pro-government Al-Watan newspaper reported on Monday that the truce excluded areas held by former Al-Qaeda affiliate Fateh al-Sham Front or its ally Faylaq al-Rahman -- which controls Arbin.

A map of Eastern Ghouta shown during a Monday briefing by Russia's defence ministry appeared to show that the northern half of Arbin was excluded from the zone.

A Syrian man sits in his damaged house on July 25  2017 following an air strike late the previous ni...
A Syrian man sits in his damaged house on July 25, 2017 following an air strike late the previous night on the rebel-held town of Arbin, east of the capital
ABDULMONAM EASSA, AFP

And the Russian military official said Tuesday that reports "about an alleged airstrike the evening of July 24 in the Eastern Ghouta de-escalation zone are a complete lie aimed at discrediting the peace process."

He added that contacts with opposition groups in the zone "confirmed that no military hostilities took place in this zone, and there were no air strikes."

An AFP correspondent who visited the town's hospital early on Tuesday saw at least five small bodies laid out on the floor wrapped in white shrouds.

Two of them were toddlers.

"My sister came to visit me and she and her two children were killed," a woman cried.

A pair of exhausted doctors walked through the hospital after a long night treating patients.

- 'Huge explosion' -

At the site of the strike on Tuesday morning, shellshocked residents were clearing rubble away from their homes.

"We were sleeping at home when the plane came and fired a rocket," said 13-year-old Mohammad.

Syrian children wait to receive treatment at a make-shift hospital after they were injured in shelli...
Syrian children wait to receive treatment at a make-shift hospital after they were injured in shelling on the rebel-held town of Arbin, east of the capital Damascus, late on July 24, 2017
ABDULMONAM EASSA, AFP

"I was with my mother and sister, we heard a huge explosion so we opened up the bomb shelter and went downstairs," he told AFP.

Father of four Abu Bashar said the force of the explosion blew out all his doors and windows.

"We couldn't see anything but dust," the 30-year-old said.

The Observatory said there had been air strikes on Eastern Ghouta on Sunday, at sunset on Monday, and again on Tuesday morning, but that the deaths in Arbin were the first civilian deaths since the truce.

A similar ceasefire was announced for southern areas of Syria on July 9.

Under the May agreement, "de-escalation zones" are planned for four key battlegrounds between government and rebel forces, but there have been disagreements over their borders and who will police them.

A Syrian man cleans the rubble outside his home on July 25  2017 following an air strike late the pr...
A Syrian man cleans the rubble outside his home on July 25, 2017 following an air strike late the previous night on the rebel-held town of Arbin, east of the capital
ABDULMONAM EASSA, AFP

The presence of jihadist and allied forces which control large parts of the remaining rebel enclaves has also complicated the ceasefire efforts.

The Syrian government and its Russian and Iranian allies insist that the jihadists cannot be included in any truce.

Moscow said on Monday that it had set up two checkpoints and four observation posts in Eastern Ghouta to monitor the ceasefire.

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