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Syria jets strike rebels, radicals ahead of talks


Government aircraft pounded rebels and their radical allies in northern Syria overnight, a monitor said on Wednesday, as Moscow announced new peace talks to be held in Kazakhstan on January 23.

Air raids targeted the rebel strongholds of Atarib and Khan Al Assal in Aleppo province, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

It had no immediate word on any casualties.

A journalist heard intense air strikes in the Atarib area.

The strikes came despite a shaky two-week ceasefire between the government and non-radical rebels that is meant to pave the way for peace talks which Moscow said on Wednesday would begin in the Kazakh capital Astana on January 23.

Government aircraft also carried out strikes on Wednesday in Idlib province in the northwest, targeting positions of former Al Qaeda affiliate Fateh Al Sham Front, which is not party to the ceasefire, the Observatory said.

Talks on Syria’s political future will take place in Kazakhstan’s capital Astana on January 23, a source in the Russian foreign ministry confirmed on Wednesday.

“At this time there is no indication that the meeting will be postponed. The date of January 23 is set,” the source said of the negotiations to be hosted by Russia and Turkey between the Syrian government and rebel groups.

Russia and Turkey last month brokered a ceasefire in the ravaged country which was backed by the opposing sides in the protracted war but was done without the involvement of Washington, a negotiator in previous ceasefires.

The governor of Syria’s Damascus Countryside province said on Wednesday the government had agreed with rebels in the Wadi Barada area for technicians to enter a damaged spring facility that supplies water to the capital, state television reported.

The spring was knocked out of service in late December, reducing water supplies to the 70 per cent of inhabitants of Damascus and surrounding areas that it serves.

Millions of people have been without mains water for weeks after fighting damaged key infrastructure.

President Bashar Al Assad has claimed that Fateh Al Sham forces are present in the area, a charge rebels deny.

“The role of the Syrian army is to liberate that area in order to prevent those terrorists from using that water in order to suffocate the capital,” Assad told French media in an interview aired on Monday.

In another development, a team of US-led commandos killed two Daish operatives in a raid over the weekend, a US defense official confirmed late on Tuesday.

The operation in the eastern province of Deir Ezzor on Sunday drew significant international attention after the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an independent monitor, said that 25 radials had been killed.