UPDATE 1715 GMT: A pro-Assad site says that, in a further breaking of the ceasefire, the regime has launched airstrikes on Tal al-Eis near Aleppo city.
Earlier this week, local opposition sources warned that Iranian troops and Iranian-led foreign militia were being flown into airports near Aleppo, possibly in preparation for a ground offensive.
UPDATE 1130 GMT: An outlet linked to the Free Syrian Army says pro-Assad attacks are continuing on Wadi Barada, despite yesterday’s claims by Assad supporters of a truce:
FSA engaging in continuous combat with regime & Hezbollah fighters who attempted to advance on Basima axis, Wadi Barada
— FSA News (@FSAPlatform) January 7, 2017
ORIGINAL ENTRY: Assad regime outlets are claiming that a truce agreement has been reached over the besieged and under-assault opposition Wadi Barada area, northwest of Syria’s capital Damascus, but a senior rebel official has denied the claim.
Defying the national ceasefire arranged on December 29, regime and Hezbollah forces have continued a four-week offensive to overrun Wadi Barada, a pocket of 10 villages and between 50,000 to 100,000 people. Bombing and shelling have damaged much of the infrastructure, including the facilities providing more than 60% of Damascus’s water.
Footage of some of the destruction:
— وادي بردى (@w_barada) January 6, 2017
Hezbollah’s military news service said a truce had been reached for “a number of hours”, but Munir Sayal, head of the political wing of the Ahrar al-Sham faction, said the report was “a lie”.
Sayal asserted that on Thursday the regime rejected a ceasefire that would have allowed for repairs to the water pumping station and for people to return to two nearby villages.
However, a pro-Assad propaganda outlet maintained the line that an accord had been reached and will take effect at 9 a.m., circulating a claimed copy of the agreement on Twitter:
— EHSANI2 (@EHSANI22) January 6, 2017
The pro-Assad forces had stepped up bombing and shelling in the 48 hours to Friday, including artillery fire from a steep hill into the valley. A pro-regime site, hailing the attacks, also proclaimed the deployment of an elite brigade of the 4th Mechanized Division to the battlefront.
An outlet for the Free Syrian Army tweeted on Friday afternoon:
— FSA News (@FSAPlatform) January 6, 2017
Despite the ceasefire brokered by Turkey and Russia, the regime and Hezbollah have not stopped airstrikes, shelling, and the ground offensive. Pro-opposition activists also say an Iranian headquarters is involved in the siege and organization of the attacks.
Damascus and its allies are using the pretext that they are targeting the jihadists of Jabhat Fatah al-Nusra, whom the regime says is excluded from the truce. However, JFS (formerly known as Jabhat al-Nusra) left Wadi Barada by late 2015, according to local sources, activists, the opposition, and rebels. There is no evidence of an organized return to the area, although individual members may remain: journalist Nour Samaha claims from a local source that a “small” number are present, and analyst Charles Lister says there are no more than 30.
Picture: Assad Among Aleppo Destruction
A poster of the President among the destruction in an area of Aleppo city recently reoccupied by pro-Assad forces:
Car Bomb Kills At Least 30 in Azaz Near Turkish Border
Local sources report at least 30 people have been killed by a large car bomb in Azaz, in northwest Syria near the Turkish border.
The bomb — some reports say two — reportedly detonated near a market. Claims are circulating of up to 100 dead, while Turkish media said 23 wounded people were transported across the border for treatment and local hospitals put out an emergency call for blood donations.
The Islamic State has regularly attacked in and near Azaz.
A car bomb was detonated in a market in Azaz. Reports that more than 50 civilians were killed. ISIS cells are still very dangerous. pic.twitter.com/nL0yeH3Idr
— Imad alDin (@imadaldinz) January 7, 2017