November 19, 2015 / 8:25 AM / 2 years ago

Syrian rebel group studies local truce near Damascus

BEIRUT (Reuters) - A powerful Syrian rebel group said on Thursday it was studying a local ceasefire proposal put forward by an international mediator aimed at halting fighting with government forces near Damascus.

The comments by the spokesman for Islam Army appeared to suggest the initiative was not dead, even as a lull in fighting between government-held Damascus and the rebel-held Eastern Ghouta area gave way to renewed bombardment on Thursday afternoon.

Spokesman Islam Alloush did not give the identity of the mediator who he said had presented the ceasefire proposal to a local notable in the opposition-held area, who in turn had presented it to rebel and civilian groups.

“We, in Islam Army are studying the subject in the leadership council,” Alloush told Reuters, speaking via a web-based messaging system. He declined to give further details.

In an interview with a Syrian radio station, Ali Haider, a government minister responsible for national reconciliation, said news reports of a ceasefire were untrue. But he did not say whether or not ceasefire talks were under way.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a UK-based organization that tracks the war, reported on Wednesday that a 15-day ceasefire was expected to be declared soon. On Thursday, however, it said the talks had failed.

A pro-government news page on Facebook, Damascus Now, identified the mediators as Russian, saying they had been in contact with rebel leaders. It said the rebels had asked for a 15-day truce, but the request had been rejected for now and there was no change in military operations in the area.

It would be the second local ceasefire brokered in recent months with foreign help, even as the war escalates elsewhere following Russia’s military intervention on the side of President Bashar al-Assad.

In late September, Iran and Turkey, which back opposing sides in the conflict, helped bring about local ceasefires in the town of Zabadani near the Lebanese border and in two villages in northwestern province of Idlib.

The rebel-held Eastern Ghouta is situated to the east of Damascus and provides a base of operations for Islam Army, which is an enemy of Islamic State.

The area, which was targeted with chemical weapons in 2013, is hit regularly by government air strikes. Insurgents including Islam Army have meanwhile used their control of Eastern Ghouta to bombard Damascus.

In the latest fighting, air strikes on the city of Douma in Eastern Ghouta killed at least 12 people, including two girls, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said. Two men were killed in air strikes on the nearby town of Arbin, it said.

Insurgent shells also hit areas of Damascus, it said, adding that there was no news on casualties.

Writing by Tom Perry; Editing by Dominic Evans and Mark Trevelyan

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