Civilians gather as they inspect a site hit by shelling by forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar Al Assad, in the Jazmati area of Aleppo, yesterday.
BEIRUT: Nearly 1,400 people have been killed in Syria since clashes between rebels and the jihadist Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) erupted this month, a monitor said yesterday.
“The number of people killed in fighting between the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant and Islamist and rebel forces since January 3 has risen to 1,395,” the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
The Observatory, a Britain-based group that relies on activists and other sources on the ground, said the figure included 760 moderate and Islamist rebels, 426 ISIL fighters, 190 civilians and 19 others whose identities have not been established.
Clashes between rebels and jihadists from ISIL erupted early in January after months of rising tensions.
The all-out fight has seen ISIL lose territory in Idlib and Aleppo provinces, but it has consolidated its hold over Raqa city, the only provincial capital to be pried from regime control.
Elsewhere in northern Syria, near the Turkish border, ISIL militants seized control of Manjib, northeast of Aleppo, after several days of clashes in which 12 Kurdish fighters died, the Observatory said.
And three people were killed, including a young girl, and 15 wounded in a car-bomb blast in the Kurdish-held village of Malkiyeh close to the border.
Regime air raids on Aleppo left another 16 people dead, including three women and eight children, after warplanes hit several rebel-held areas in the south of the city.
Al Qaeda leader Ayman Al Zawahiri, in an audio message posted online yesterday, urged all jihadist forces “to immediately halt fighting between brothers.”
UN envoy meets Syria foes to salvage talks
GENEVA: A UN envoy met members of Syria’s opposition Geneva yesterday as efforts began to salvage peace talks by focusing on local ceasefires and prisoner swaps rather than a political deal.
The first day of talks on Wednesday was dominated by fierce rhetoric from President Bashar Al Assad’s government and its foes. Brought together for the first time in almost three years of war, each accused the other of atrocities and showed no sign of compromise.
UN envoy Lakhdar Brahimi met leaders of the Syrian opposition at a Geneva hotel to discuss the agenda for further talks today. The opposition then went to meet officials from the United States, France and Britain. Brahimi was due to meet the delegation from Assad’s government later yesterday.
Officials still hope they can salvage the process by starting with more modest, practical measures to ease the plight of millions of people on the ground, especially in areas cut off from international aid.
More than 130,000 people are believed to have been killed, nearly a third of Syria’s 22 million people have been driven from their homes and half are in need of international aid, including hundreds of thousands in areas cut off by fighting.
The main negotiations, expected to last up to a week, are not due to begin until today, giving mediators a day to lower the temperature and focus on pragmatic steps.
One of the opposition negotiators, Haitham Al Maleh, said the mood was positive despite the tough first day. He spoke of a two-stage process, with practical steps like prisoner swaps, ceasefires, the withdrawal of heavy weapons and setting up aid corridors being dealt with first, before the political future.
The talks remain fragile, however, with both sides threatening to pull out — the government says it will not discuss removing Assad, while the opposition says it will not stay unless Assad’s removal is the basis for negotiations.
“There is an international willingness for this to succeed, but we don’t know what will happen,” Maleh said. “It is possible that (the government) might withdraw. We will withdraw if Geneva takes another course and deviates from the transition, to the government narrative that they are fighting terrorism.”