Middle East

Over 100 killed in upsurge in Syria's Aleppo: activists

Syrian government forces patrol in the village of Khan Tuman on the southern outskirts of the northern embattled city of Aleppo following an attack as they continue to battle ISIS militants on April 11, 2016. / AFP / George Ourfalian

BEIRUT: Over 100 troops, pro-government militia, extremists and rebels have been killed in four days of fierce fighting on a strategic front of Syria's Aleppo province, activists said Wednesday.

Since Sunday, fighting around Al-Eis and Khan Touman in Aleppo's southern belt has killed 61 rebels and members of Al-Qaeda-affiliated Nusra Front and 50 troops and pro-government militia, said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

"In the past 24 hours alone, 42 rebels and Al-Nusra members died, as well as 34 government loyalists," Observatory director Rami Abdel-Rahman said.

Government troops are trying to recapture Al-Eis, held by Nusra and rebel allies, which in turn have launched an offensive to take over nearby Khan Touman from the government.

The fighting came as U.N.-brokered indirect talks resumed in Geneva, threatening to break a fragile six-week truce that was brokered by the United States and Russia.

Neither Nusra nor ISIS are included in the truce, but the fact that rebels are fighting alongside Nusra while government forces push back has sparked concerns over its durability.

Washington voiced concern Monday that a government assault on Nusra in Aleppo could spread to more moderate factions, and cause the truce to collapse and derail the peace efforts.

The area where the fighting is focused is important because it is located near the highway linking Damascus to war-ravaged Aleppo city, the Observatory said.

It is also key because it is near the Shiite towns of al-Foua and Kefraya in neighboring Idlib province, which are under siege by opposition forces.

"Most of the regime loyalists killed were militia fighters from Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, Iran and Afghanistan," Abdel-Rahman said.

"For them, this is an ideologically-driven battle to break the siege on Fua and Kefraya," he told AFP.

Abdel-Rahman said the fighting shows that neither President Bashar Assad's government nor the opposition represented at the Geneva talks calls the shots in fighting on the ground.

"The real decisions are made by (government backers) Iran and Russia on one side, and jihadist factions and opposition backers on the other," he said.

Syria's war began as a popular anti-government revolt but later morphed into a brutal civil war after Damascus unleashed a brutal crackdown on dissent.





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