A series of airstrikes on an opposition-held district in the Syrian city of Homs, presumably carried out by Russia or Syria, killed at least nine civilians on Wednesday, local activists said.
Pro-government forces shelled the city’s al-Waer neighbourhood with tank and artillery fire in conjunction with the airstrikes, the Local Coordination Committees, an activist network, reported.
Government forces have kept the opposition-held neighbourhood under siege since 2013, according to the Washington-based Siege Watch. An estimated 75,000 people are trapped inside.
The local Civil Defence search-and-rescue team, also known as the White Helmets, said the airstrikes hit one of its centers in al-Waer, wounding one volunteer. The government and its allies have regularly targeted hospitals and first responder positions in the course of the Syrian civil war, which is approaching its seventh year.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights also reported that nine civilians were killed in the raids.
Homs is Syria’s third-largest city. Government forces retook most of the city in 2014, effectively ending an anti-government protest movement that had gripped Homs since 2011.
The al-Waer assault came one day after presumed Russian or Syrian government aircraft bombed the rebel-held city of Idlib and marked the second major violation of a month-old ceasefire between the government and rebels in as many days.
The Observatory said 24 civilians were killed in seven strikes across Idlib on Tuesday. The Idlib Civil Defence said 26 people were killed.
The December 30 ceasefire was brokered by Russia and Iran, both of which are key allies of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, and Turkey, which supports the opposition. Each side has accused the other of repeated violations.
UN-sponsored talks on Syria are scheduled to start in Geneva on February 20 and invitations to the discussions will be issued “in the coming days” — not on Wednesday as expected, United Nations spokesman Stephane Dujarric said. He said UN special envoy Staffan de Mistura and his team are continuing discussions and the invitations will go out once they reach “a position of comfort.”
De Mistura had said invitations would be issued around February 8 and if the Syrian opposition wasn’t united, he would select the delegation and ensure that it is as inclusive as possible. Dujarric declined to say whether talks were still going on with opposition groups or whether de Mistura is choosing the opposition delegation.
The Syrian conflict began when the Baath regime, in power since 1963 and led by President Bashar al-Assad, responded with military force to peaceful protests demanding democratic reforms during the Arab Spring wave of uprisings, triggering an armed rebellion fueled by mass defections from the Syrian army.
According to independent monitors, hundreds of thousands of civilians have been killed in the war, mostly by the regime and its powerful allies, and millions have been displaced both inside and outside of Syria. The brutal tactics pursued mainly by the regime, which have included the use of chemical weapons, sieges, mass executions and torture against civilians have led to war crimes investigations.
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