Syrian jets hit rebel-held areas of Homs, Deraa - activist, monitor say | Reuters

By John Davison

BEIRUT Syrian warplanes bombarded a besieged rebel-held district of Homs on Saturday, killing at least two people and raising the death toll from nearly two weeks of air strikes there to more than 20, an activist and monitoring group said.Warplanes also hit insurgent-controlled areas in Deraa in southern Syria during a series of heavy raids over the last day, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group said.For months, Al-Waer, the last rebel-held neighbourhood in the western city of Homs, had been spared much of the intense violence raging elsewhere in the country, as the government tried to conclude an agreement with insurgents there.Bombardment of the area resumed earlier this month, rescue workers and the British-based Observatory said.The Observatory said three people were killed on Saturday, bringing the death toll since then to at least 30 people. An opposition media activist in al-Waer said two people had been killed and put February's overall death toll at more than 20.

A military media unit run by Damascus ally Hezbollah said warplanes and artillery had targeted insurgents in al-Waer after rebel sniper fire hit areas neighbouring the district.Damascus has tried to conclude a deal in al-Waer that would see rebel fighters and their families leave the district and the government take over. Under similar agreements elsewhere in western Syria, rebels have left with light weapons and headed mostly for Idlib province.The opposition says such accords are part of a government strategy to forcibly displace populations from opposition-held areas after years of siege and bombardment.

In September, some 120 rebel fighters and their families left al-Waer in agreement with the government, but there have been no further reports of insurgents leaving. The Observatory estimates several thousand rebels remain there.In Deraa, government and Russian warplanes increased their bombardment of rebel-held areas, carrying out at least 70 air strikes on the city and towns in the eastern Deraa countryside on Friday and Saturday, the Observatory reported.

At least four people were killed by air strikes in the town of Umm al-Mayadhin, and one person in Busra al-Sham, it said.Russia backs Damascus in its fight against insurgents, but has supported along with rebel-backer Turkey a ceasefire deal that was put in place on Dec. 30 and covers western Syria. The truce excludes jihadist groups Islamic State and the former Syria branch of al Qaeda.The warring sides have accused each other of violating the ceasefire and fighting has tarnished it almost since it began. (Reporting by John Davison; Editing by John Stonestreet and Helen Popper)

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Updated Date: Feb 18, 2017 23:02:30 IST

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