Weekend Violence in Daraya, Idlib and Aleppo
Violence escalated over the weekend in the rebel-held suburbs of the capital, with government forces shelling the besieged area of Daraya and fighting between government and rebels in the Jobar neighborhood east of Damascus.
The government’s shelling of residential neighborhoods in Daraya followed its obstruction of the first ever humanitarian aid delivery to the area last week.
Sources from Daraya’s local council told al-Jazeera that regime forces targeted residential neighborhoods with missiles and heavy artillery. The escalation in violence came in conjunction with an attempt by pro-government forces to break into the suburb, home to 8,000 civilians.
In rural Idlib, two people were killed and many wounded following government airstrikes on the city of Jisr al-Shughour.
In Aleppo, government forces targeted the Handarat camp for displaced civilians north of the city with airstrikes, and the town of Andan with mortar shells. Armed rebel groups retaliated by shelling the government-held neighborhoods of al-Tamoura and Bashmara.
Meanwhile, armed rebels captured the town of Ferziyeh in northern Aleppo from Islamic State group (ISIS) militants.
Kerry Meets King Salman to Discuss Syria Ahead of Talks
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry met King Salman of Saudi Arabia in Jeddah on Sunday in the hope of strengthening the fragile cessation of hostilities ahead of a meeting of the International Syria Support Group (ISSG).
Kerry said he hoped to discuss the fragile truce agreement between forces fighting on behalf of Bashar al-Assad’s government and armed rebel groups. Fighting in Idlib, Aleppo and rural Damascus over the past week put further strain on the already tenuous truce, Reuters reported.
The meeting came days before a meeting of the 17-member ISSG – which includes Russia, Iran, the Arab League and the European Union – set to take place in Vienna on Tuesday.
Kerry said the meeting was planned in order “to make sure that we can get this cessation better footed and, frankly, better observed and implemented throughout the country.”
The five-year conflict in Syria has divided countries into two camps: the U.S., Turkey and Gulf states support rebel groups fighting against President Bashar al-Assad, while Iran and Russia back the Syrian government, politically and militarily.
Students Allowed to Leave Besieged Areas To Take End of Year Exams
The Syrian government allowed 428 students from besieged Damascus suburbs to travel to government-controlled areas over the weekend to take their year-end exams.
The students were from the suburbs of Moadamiyeh and Madaya, both of which are under tight government siege and have received only limited humanitarian relief despite reports of malnutrition and deaths from starvation.
Over the past school year, 80 percent of students in Madaya have missed stretches of school because of hunger or sickness, according to Wafiqa Hashem, a teacher from Mohammad Nassif secondary school in Madaya, the Associated Press reports.
Doctors Without Borders reported 16 deaths related to the siege in Madaya in January alone.
Schools in the suburbs are also struggling with power cuts and other shortages.
Bashar al-Assad’s government is eager to show that it is still providing services and salaries amid the ongoing civil war, even to areas outside its control.
Government education minister Hazwan al-Wuz hailed the first week of exams as a “rejection of the ignorance that the nation’s enemies are striving for.”
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- The Independent: How the Life of Hezbollah’s Mustafa Badreddine Tells the Political History of the Middle East