Syrian rebels freeze peace talks amid accusations of ceasefire violations

Rebel groups in Syria accused the regime there of violating a ceasefire negotiated by Russia and Turkey last week, which is supposed to pave the way toward peace talks at the end of January. Pictured, Russian military engineers work to de-mine eastern Aleppo, Syria, which Russian officials have said is pockmarked with many mines planted in streets, entrances to houses, cars and even in children's toys. Photo by Russian Defense Ministry/European Pressphoto Agency

DEMASCUS, Syria, Jan. 3 (UPI) — Days after agreeing to a ceasefire that has been embraced by the United Nations, rebel groups in Syria said Monday they are pausing plans for peace talks because Russian and Syrian government forces have already violated the promise to stop fighting.

Syrian rebel groups on Monday accused the government of Bashar al-Assad and its allies of continuing to stage attacks and attempt to take control of territories, direct violations of the ceasefire they agreed to with Russia and Turkey.

The groups said peace talks scheduled for later this month in Astana, Kazakhstan, will also be on hold until Syria, Russia and other allied groups live up to the ceasefire, which the United Nations has also strongly backed.

“The regime and its allies continued their onslaught and committed many big breaches,” rebel leaders say in a letter alleging the violation of the ceasefire. “Given the escalating situation and the continuous breaches, the signatory armed groups declare [they are] freezing all discussions regarding the Astana negotiations or any other consultations regarding the ceasefire agreement until it is fully implemented.”

The statement refers to shelling and onslaughts near Damascus and several nearby areas as not having stopped, and states that any attempt to regain ground is a violation of the agreement — and argues that an inability to totally stop fighting makes the groups question whether any type of agreement is enforceable.

The agreement, brokered by Turkey and Russia, and their evaluation of rebel groups, includes seven so-called moderate groups all involved negotiators could agree on — Feilak al-Sham, Ahrar al-Sham, Jaysh al-Islam, Thuwar al-Sham, Jaysh al-Mujahideen, Jaysh Idlib and Jabhat al-Shamiyah.

The ceasefire is effective all over Syria, but it does not include groups associated with the Islamic State, also known as ISIS, ISIL and Daesh, or the groups Jabhat Fateh al-Sham and the Kurdish YPG militia, many of whom are based on the eastern side of the country and have said they will continue to fight the Syrian regime regardless of any agreements.


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