Residents of Nawa city in Syria inspect the damage after a reported strike against ISIS positions by the Russian Air Force, November 21.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
WASHINGTON – Mortar, tank and heavy machine-gun fire pierced a peaceful quiet on Saturday near the Syrian city of Aleppo, risking a delicate cease-fire that has largely relieved the country of war for the past month.
Fighting claimed the lives of at least 25 pro-government and 16 opposition fighters, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a British-based group that monitors the war.
Among those in this particular battle against forces loyal to embattled Syrian President Bashar Assad, according to the observatory, are fighters from al-Nusra, an al-Qaida affiliate.
Neither al-Nusra nor Islamic State – internationally characterized as terrorist organizations – are covered by the cease-fire brokered between the United States and Russia back in February. But in some cities, and especially in Aleppo, al-Nusra fighters blend in with Western-backed rebel groups and often operate in proximity to those considered moderate.
The main opposition group to Assad is not optimistic about upcoming peace talks in Geneva, opposition member Riad Hijab told Al-Araby al-Jadid television late Friday.
Syria’s opposition seeks a transitional governing body for Syria that does not include Assad – a “nonnegotiable” position, according to its leadership.
“There is no international will, especially from the US side, and I do not expect anything to come of the negotiations,” said Hijab, the coordinator for the Saudi-backed Higher Negotiation Committee, the main opposition bloc.
The HNC will attend the next round of talks, scheduled to start around April 9 in Geneva, Hijab said. But, “I will be clear to our people: We have no optimism concerning the negotiations process.”
Assad has said he thinks the Geneva talks can produce a new Syrian government that includes opposition, independents and loyalists, but has explicitly rejected the idea of a transitional authority.
Russia and the United States disagree on Assad’s future but have jointly pressed the Syrian government and the opposition to attend the indirect peace talks in Geneva, which are being mediated by a United Nations envoy.
“We are not afraid of the US-Russian rapprochement,” Hijab said. “But we fear the secrecy, the lack of clarity and lack of transparency.
“We do not know what has been agreed... what is happening in Syria is a proxy war.”