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Airstrikes hit Syria's Aleppo despite ceasefire

Last Updated Sep 24, 2017 at 4:20 pm EST

BEIRUT – Airstrikes have targeted rural Aleppo in northern Syria Sunday for the first time in months since a cease-fire took hold in the province, killing one, activists and a war monitoring group said.

Also Sunday, the Central Military Media, affiliated with the Syrian government, reported that Iranian drones successfully struck vehicles of the Islamic State group along the Syria-Iraq border in the south. The report didn’t say when the strike occurred, but showed purported footage of it.

Previously, the U.S-led coalition had downed Iranian drones in the area, considering them hostile because they dropped ammunition near a base where U.S. troops operated alongside allied Syrian opposition fighters. Since the two strikes in June, one of two U.S. bases in the area has shut down after Syrian and allied forces essentially cut off access to it, foiling plans to use the area as a launch pad for operations in eastern Syria.

Meanwhile, Syrian media reported that government and allied troops have seized Maadan, a town north of Deir el-Zour city and south of Raqqa, which has been scene to intense fighting with Islamic State militants. State TV al-Ikhbariya filmed from inside the town, showing plumes of black smoke rising into the sky. The TV reporter said the town, which links the militant group’s two strongholds now under attack, served as a key station for IS oil transport and distribution.

The report hailed the capture of the town a day earlier as a major victory for the pro-government troops, saying they have now rid the western bank of the Euphrates river of the militant group and secured the road from Deir el-Zour to Aleppo.

Seizing Maadan comes amid a government offensive advancing on Deir el-Zour city. The capture of Maadan, 70 km (43 miles) west of Deir el-Zour, also brings the pro-Syrian forces closer to Raqqa city, where the U.S.-led coalition is backing a campaign against IS.

Elsewhere, warplanes continued Sunday to pound Syria’s rural Idlib and Hama, where insurgents led by an al-Qaida-linked group began an offensive against government troops in the area. The Syrian Civil Defence said one person was killed in Aleppo bombing, which it said targeted a cow farm.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said more than 40 insurgents were killed in airstrikes Saturday on a village in northern Idlib. Rami Abdurrahman, the head of the Observatory, said the airstrikes targeted a base in Mardkih that belongs to Faylaq al-Sham, a fighting group that had agreed to the cease-fire. The group posted a video a day before the airstrike showing its fighters preparing a mortar attack on government areas north of Hirbnafsah in Hama.

The Syrian Civil Defence, also known as the White Helmets, said its rescuers came under attack Saturday from airstrikes as they were carrying out search and rescue operations in Mardikh. A video posted online by the group shows one of their volunteers injured in the attack.

A “de-escalation” deal reached in May has dramatically reduced the violence in most of Syria. Al-Qaida-linked militants launched an offensive earlier this week against government forces in northern Hama, prompting an intense Russia-backed aerial campaign against Hama and Idlib. Sunday’s airstrikes in Aleppo appeared to have targeted Faylaq al-Sham bases in the province, according to Abdurrahman.

Also Sunday, Russia’s Defence Ministry said a general had been killed in fighting in Syria.

The ministry said that Lt. Gen. Valery Asapov “was at a command post of Syrian troops, assisting the Syrian commanders in the operation for the liberation of the city of Deir ez-Zor.”

State news agency Tass reported that “as a result of a mortar shelling by the IS (Islamic State group), Asapov was mortally wounded.”