Hezbollah bars Russian officers, threatens Syria cease-fire

DAILY SABAH WITH AA
ISTANBUL
Published 05.01.2017 22:25
Updated 06.01.2017 11:52

Hezbollah militants allegedly blocked a Russian military delegation consisting of four military officers from entering the besieged area of Wadi Bardi on the outskirts of Damascus yesterday. The delegation was invited by local residents to check the status of military activities in the area in regard to the implementation of the recent Turkish-Russian brokered cease-fire, according to local reports. The incident was considered among one of the latest efforts to breach the cease-fire brokered by Kremlin and Ankara, signaling a possible rift between Russia and Iran, as Hezbollah is known for its affiliation and collaborations with Tehran.

As recently as late December, Iran-backed paramilitary groups and Hezbollah attempted to sabotage the Aleppo evacuation deal brokered by Ankara and Moscow, by refusing to let citizens leave the city.

The Russian delegation was forced to return to Damascus after being barred from entering the area by Hezbollah militants.

In similar developments, Syrian regime aircraft reportedly dropped a number of improvised "barrel bombs" on Wadi Bardi the same day. Despite Ankara and Moscow's efforts to sustain the cease-fire deal in Aleppo, the Assad regime, Hezbollah and Iran-backed paramilitary groups continue to target opposition areas in repeated attacks, resulting in civilian casualties.

According to local sources, the Syrian regime and its allies have violated the cease-fire agreement numerous times in Wadi Bardi. Since Dec. 23, at least 30 civilians have been killed there in attacks by the Syrian regime and allied militias.

As a result of these ceasefire breaches, groups within the opposition Free Syrian Army (FSA) forces announced on Monday that they have temporarily frozen all peace talks with the Assad regime due to continuous cease-fire breaches made by regime forces across Syria.

"As these violations continue, the factions announced that all discussions linked to the Astana negotiations are frozen," the FSA said in a joint statement, referring to talks planned for mid-January to be mediated by Russia and Turkey in the Kazakh capital of Astana.

Meanwhile, Iran has suggested that Hezbollah militiamen will stay in Syria. Earlier this week, an adviser to Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei said fighters from Lebanon's Shiite Hezbollah group would not leave Syria despite the ceasefire deal.

Talking on this matter, Turkey's Foreign Minister Çavuşoğlu admitted that the cease-fire was very fragile and that Iran must keep its promises. He said "Iran must exert pressure on Shiite militias and the Syrian government [to adhere to the cease-fire deal]."

Brokered by Turkey and Russia, the ceasefire agreement went into effect almost one week ago.

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