Regime and rebel bombardment killed 26 civilians Sunday in Syria’s second city Aleppo despite an increasingly troubled ceasefire, as US President Barack Obama warned against sending foreign troops into the conflict.
Eight weeks into the declared truce between President Bashar al-Assad’s regime and non-jihadist rebels, violence has escalated around Aleppo, with dozens killed in government air strikes and heavy rebel rocket fire.
The recent surge in fighting, and the stalling of peace talks in Geneva, have dimmed hopes that the ceasefire would lay the groundwork for finally resolving Syria’s devastating five-year conflict.
After at least 27 reported civilian deaths in regime bombardment across Syria on Saturday, a fresh barrage of air strikes hit Aleppo around midday Sunday.
Twelve civilians died after a strike hit an open-air fruit and vegetable market, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group.
An AFP photographer in the district saw an older man in a bright-blue cap carrying a shell-shocked and bleeding, barefoot young boy.
Another four civilians died in strikes on other opposition neighbourhoods, the Observatory said.
In the western government-held parts of the city, 10 civilians were killed early Sunday in rebel rocket fire, the Observatory said.
A woman and two children were among the dead.
The rockets had rained down on the regime-controlled parts of the city before dawn on Sunday but relative calm had returned by the afternoon, another AFP correspondent said.
While officials have yet to declare the ceasefire dead, Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman said the escalating violence in Aleppo and elsewhere meant it had effectively collapsed.
– Ground troops a ‘mistake’ –
The ceasefire, brokered by Russia and the United States, was part of the biggest diplomatic push yet to resolve Syria’s conflict, which began in March 2011 with widespread anti-Assad protests.
It has since spiralled into a multi-front war that has left 270,000 people dead and drawn in regional and world powers.
In an interview with the BBC aired on Sunday, Obama warned Western governments should not dispatch troops to topple Assad’s regime.
“Syria has been a heart-breaking situation of enormous complexity, and I don’t think there are any simple solutions,” Obama said during a visit to London.
“It would be a mistake for the United States, or Great Britain, or a combination of Western states to send in ground troops and overthrow the Assad regime.”
He called on all parties “to sit down at the table and try to broker a transition”.
Peace negotiations due to continue in Geneva until Wednesday have faltered after Syria’s main opposition group last week suspended its official participation in the talks.
Obama first urged Assad to step down in August 2011 but has resisted calls by his critics to use US military force to end the Syrian regime’s rule.
Washington did however launch air strikes in mid-2014 against the Islamic State jihadist group after it seized control of large parts of Syria and neighbouring Iraq.
Obama said the bombing campaign would continue alongside efforts to “lock down” parts of Syria under IS rule that were dispatching jihadists into Europe.
– Regime, Kurds to swap prisoners –
IS fighters have carved out zones of control across Syria’s north and east, declaring a self-styled “caliphate” there and in Iraq where they impose an extreme interpretation of Islamic law.
The jihadists have suffered several major defeats in Syria’s north at the hands of the Kurdish People’s Protection Forces (YPG) and allied groups.
Kurdish fighters are seen as the most effective fighting force against IS and have declared an autonomous region across northern parts of Syria.
But in the northeastern city of Qamishli this week, Kurdish militia turned their weapons on Syrian government forces in a rare bout of fighting between the two sides.
The clashes began Wednesday with a scuffle at a checkpoint and, according to Kurdish security forces, killed 17 civilians, 10 Kurdish fighters and 31 regime troops and allied militiamen.
The Kurdish security forces said they had also arrested 102 members of pro-regime forces since the beginning of the fighting.
After several days of mediation, Syrian regime officials and Kurdish representatives agreed Sunday to swap an unspecified number of prisoners and to maintain a local truce.
The deal would also see the regime free Kurds held in government prisons since before 2011, according to a Kurdish security source.
Kurds will keep the positions they seized during the clashes, including a prison, the source said.