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Damascus has agreed to halt its aerial bombardment of Aleppo for six weeks for a trial ceasefire, UN envoy to Syria Staffan de Mistura says.

Staffan de Mistura said the Syrian pledge offered a glimmer of hope although it is unclear when it would take effect.

The opposition Syrian National Council says the government will be judged by actions rather than words.

Government forces have been engaged in heavy fighting as they try to cut a crucial rebel supply route.


More than 100 soldiers and rebels were reported to have been killed on February 17 as the army captured several villages north of the city.

Staffan de Mistura has been working since October to negotiate what are called “local freezes” in the Syrian fighting that would start with Aleppo.

During a recent visit to the country, he held a long meeting with Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad, during which the Syrian president apparently indicated a willingness to halt all aerial bombing and artillery shelling of Aleppo for the six-week period.

Photo Reuters

Photo Reuters

Staffan de Mistura said he would return to Syria as soon as possible with the aim of announcing a freeze in the fighting in the northern city, during which opposition forces would also be expected to suspend their mortar and rocket fire.

“Let’s be frank, I have no illusions because based on past experiences, this will be a difficult issue to be achieved,” he said.

Aleppo has been divided between rebel and government control since fighting erupted in the city in mid-2012.

Soldiers, backed by pro-government militiamen and fighters from Lebanon’s Hezbollah movement, have made steady advances since launching an offensive to retake the rebel-held west of the city last year.

Aleppo-based rebels and opposition activists have expressed concerns that the government will exploit any local truces to redeploy its forces to fight elsewhere, and have questioned how they will work with jihadist militants from the Islamic State (ISIS) group in the area.

France has launched its first air strikes against Islamic State (ISIS) militants in Iraq, the office of President Francois Hollande says.

A statement said planes had attacked an ISIS depot in north-east Iraq, and there would be more raids in the coming days.

The US has carried out more than 170 air strikes against the jihadist group in Iraq since mid-August.

ISIS remains in control of dozens of cities and towns in Iraq and Syria, where it has declared a caliphate.

Friday’s air strike comes a day after President Francois Hollande said he had agreed to an Iraqi request for air support, but it would only target IS in Iraq and not in neighboring Syria.

Francois Hollande also insisted that he would not send ground troops.

France has launched its first air strikes against ISIS militants in Iraq

France has launched its first air strikes against ISIS militants in Iraq

France had already been carrying out reconnaissance flights over Iraq and providing weapons to Kurdish fighters in the north.

Francois Hollande’s office said Rafale planes had carried out the attack and “the objective was hit and completely destroyed”.

It did not give details on the type of material at the depot, or its exact location.

However, Qassim al-Moussawi, a spokesman for the Iraqi military, said four French air strikes had hit the town of Zumar, killing dozens of militants, AP news agency reported.

On September 15, France – which opposed the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq – hosted an international conference on the crisis.

It saw 26 countries pledge their commitment to supporting the new Iraqi government in its fight against ISIS “by any means necessary, including appropriate military assistance”.

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Israel has resumed air strikes in Gaza after Palestinian militants fired rockets following the end of a three-day truce on Friday morning.

The Israeli army called the renewed rocket attacks “unacceptable, intolerable and short-sighted”.

Palestinian militant group Hamas, which controls Gaza, earlier rejected any extension of the truce, saying Israel had failed to meet its demands.

Some 1,940 lives have been claimed in four weeks of fighting in Gaza.

Israel has resumed air strikes in Gaza after Palestinian militants fired rockets following the end of a three-day truce

Israel has resumed air strikes in Gaza after Palestinian militants fired rockets following the end of a three-day truce (photo PressTV)

At least 1,890 Palestinians, mostly civilians, have died, according to latest United Nations figures.

Israel’s government says 64 soldiers have been killed, along with two Israeli civilians and a Thai national. It also claims that about 900 Palestinian militants have died in the violence.

Israel launched Operation Protective Edge on July 8 with the stated aim of halting rocket fire from militants in Gaza and destroying the network of tunnels it said were used by militants to launch attacks inside Israel.

On Friday, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) said it was striking “terror sites across the Gaza Strip” in response to renewed rocket attacks on Israeli cities.

Palestinian militants began firing missiles from Gaza shortly before the ceasefire ended at 08:00 local time.

The violence resumed after Egyptian-brokered talks between Israel and Palestinian factions hit a deadlock.

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President Barack Obama has authorized targeted air strikes against Islamic militants in northern Iraq but will not send US troops back to the country.

Barack Obama said Islamic State (IS) fighters would be targeted to prevent the slaughter of religious minorities or if they threaten US interests.

No strikes have been made yet but the US has made humanitarian air drops to Iraqis under threat from the militants.

IS has seized Qaraqosh, Iraq’s biggest Christian town, forcing locals to flee.

The Sunni Muslim group, formerly known as Isis, has been gaining ground in northern Iraq since it launched its onslaught in June.

It now controls large swathes of Iraq and Syria and says it has created an Islamic caliphate in its territory.

Speaking at the White House on Thursday evening, Barack Obama said US military aircraft had dropped food and water to members of the Yazidi religious minority community trapped on Mount Sinjar by IS fighters.

Barack Obama has authorized two operations against Islamic militants in northern Iraq

Barack Obama has authorized two operations against Islamic militants in northern Iraq

Officials had warned that the Yazidis faced starvation and dehydration if they remained on the mountain, and slaughter at the hands of the IS if they fled.

Barack Obama said the US could not turn a “blind eye” to the prospect of violence “on a horrific scale”, especially when the Iraqi government had requested assistance.

The president said the US would act “carefully and responsibly, to prevent a potential act of genocide”.

US air strikes would target IS fighters, should they threaten Baghdad or move towards Irbil, where there is a significant presence of US diplomats and military advisers, Barack Obama said.

In addition, he authorized strikes “if necessary” to help Iraqi government forces break the siege at Mount Sinjar and rescue the trapped civilians.

“The only lasting solution is reconciliation among Iraqi communities and stronger Iraqi security forces,” Barack Obama added.

The president spoke hours after the UN Security Council met. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said he was “deeply appalled” by the situation.

As many as 100,000 Christians are believed to have fled their homes ahead of the IS advance, and most of them are thought to have gone toward the autonomous Kurdistan Region.

Kurdish forces, known as the Peshmerga, have been fighting the IS militants’ advance in the area around Qaraqosh for weeks, but on Wednesday night it appeared they had abandoned their posts.

Last month, hundreds of Christian families fled nearby Mosul after the Islamist rebels gave them an ultimatum to convert to Islam, pay a special tax, or be executed.

Iraq is home to one of the world’s most ancient Christian communities, but numbers have dwindled amid growing sectarian violence since the US-led invasion in 2003.

About 50,000 Yazidis, meanwhile, are thought to have been trapped in the mountains after fleeing the town of Sinjar over the weekend – although the UN says some of them have now been rescued.

Almost 200,000 civilians have been displaced from Sinjar town, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs has warned.

Those trapped on the mountain are facing dehydration, and 40 children are reported to have died already.

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At least 32 militants including “important commanders” have been killed in North Waziristan air strikes.

Pakistani officials described precision air strikes on targets near the border with Afghanistan.

Tens of thousands of Pakistanis have died in bomb attacks since the Pakistani Taliban began its campaign against the central government in 2007.

At least 32 militants including important commanders have been killed in North Waziristan air strikes

At least 32 militants including important commanders have been killed in North Waziristan air strikes

Several offensives have been launched against the militants, but the government is also pursuing talks.

“Before the launch of the air strikes, we had confirmed intelligence information about hideouts of the militants and their top commanders,” said a senior military official in Miranshah quoted by the Reuters news agency.

The army said in a statement that the strikes were targeting militants involved in attacks against Pakistani armed forces and Pakistani soldiers.

At least nine soldiers were killed and several critically wounded by a roadside bomb in the region earlier this month.

There have been similar air strikes since the beginning of the year, but this operation appears to have been the largest in a while.

North Waziristan, one of seven lawless tribal districts in Pakistan’s north-west, is a stronghold of Taliban and al-Qaeda linked militants.

The peace talks between the government and the Pakistani Taliban stalled after one round of negotiations in February, and a 40-day ceasefire between the two sides came to an end in mid-April.

Up to 12 Afghan civilians, 10 children and two women, have been killed in a NATO air strike in Shigal district.

A further six women are believed to have been injured in the incident in Shigal district from Kunar province in eastern Afghanistan.

NATO confirmed that “fire support” was used in Shigal after a US civilian adviser died in a militant attack, but said it had no reports of deaths.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai condemned the killings.

Up to 12 Afghan civilians, 10 children and two women, have been killed in a NATO air strike in Shigal district

Up to 12 Afghan civilians, 10 children and two women, have been killed in a NATO air strike in Shigal district

A statement issued by Hamid Karzai’s office said the president had already issued a decree banning aerial attacks on civilian areas.

Villagers and local officials said the casualties were inside their homes when they died.

Photographs apparently sent from the scene to international news agencies appeared to show the bodies of several dead young children, surrounded by Afghan villagers.

A local official said eight Taliban insurgents had also died in the air strike on Saturday, which is reported to have caused the roofs of several houses in three villages to collapse.

He said the strikes were called in to support a major operation by US and Afghan government forces targeting senior Taliban commanders and a local weapons cache.

Tribal elder Haji Malika Jan said: “The fighting started yesterday morning [Saturday] and continued for at least seven hours. There were heavy exchanges between both sides.

“The area is very close to the Pakistani border and there are hundreds of local and foreign fighters, mostly Pakistanis, in the area.”

In a statement, the NATO-led International Security Assistant Force (Isaf) said: “We are aware of an incident yesterday in Kunar province in which insurgents engaged an Afghan and coalition force.

“No Isaf personnel were involved on the ground, but Isaf provided fire support from the air, killing several insurgents. We are also aware of reports of several civilians injured from the engagement, but no reports of civilian deaths. Isaf takes all reports of civilian casualties seriously, and we are currently assessing the incident.

“The air support was called in by coalition forces – not Afghans – and was used to engage insurgent forces in areas away from structures, according to our reporting.”

A statement issued on behalf of President Hamid Karzai strongly condemned the NATO attack, and “military operations in residential areas that cause civilian deaths”.

“The president also strongly condemns the Taliban’s tactic of using civilians and their homes as their shields,” it said.

International forces are preparing to withdraw from Afghanistan by the end of 2014. Civilian deaths in Western military operations have been a source of tension between the Afghan government led President Hamid Karzai and the US and its NATO allies.

In February 2012, at least 10 civilians, mostly women and children, were killed in a NATO air strike in the same area.

In February this year, President Hamid Karzai ordered a complete ban on Afghan security forces calling in air strikes in residential areas.

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Israel has launched an air strike on the Gaza Strip for the first time since an eight-day war ended in a truce in November 2012.

According to Hamas, the Islamist group that runs Gaza, aircraft bombed fields near the border and no-one was injured.

Israel has launched an air strike on the Gaza Strip for the first time since an eight-day war ended in a truce in November 2012

Israel has launched an air strike on the Gaza Strip for the first time since an eight-day war ended in a truce in November 2012

The Israeli move comes after a Palestinian rocket attack on Israel on Tuesday which also caused no injuries.

Israel and Hamas have been observing an Egyptian-mediated truce after last November’s fighting.

The Israeli military confirmed the air strikes, saying it had targeted “terror sites” and was “in response to rocket fire”.

According to Israeli newspaper Haaretz, the air strike was near the northern Gaza town of Beit Lahiya and came after militants in Gaza fired two mortar shells into the western Negev desert.

Since the truce came into effect, Israel has eased restrictions on allowing building materials into the Gaza Strip, imposed when Hamas came to power there in 2007.

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At least 70 people have been killed by an air strike on a petrol station in the outskirts of the Syrian capital, Damascus, activists say.

Damascus residents say they saw burning bodies and horrific scenes after the air strike in Mleiha district.

Unverified reports from activists suggested 70 people had been killed.

The UN’s Human Rights Council said a new study suggested more than 60,000 had died since the start of the unrest, many more than activists have claimed.

UN rights chief Navi Pillay said in a statement that the number of casualties was “truly shocking”.

Activists posted video footage online purporting to show the latest air strike.

It featured charred bodies and burnt-out vehicles.

The reported death toll ranged from about 30 to 70. The figures could not be verified.

At least 70 people have been killed by an air strike on a petrol station in the outskirts of the Syrian capital, Damascus, activists say

At least 70 people have been killed by an air strike on a petrol station in the outskirts of the Syrian capital, Damascus, activists say

One activist told Reuters news agency that the warplane had attacked the petrol station as a consignment of fuel arrived.

Mleiha is not an opposition stronghold, and civilians appear to have borne the brunt of the attack.

Many of the killed or injured are women and children.

Syria is in the grip of chronic fuel shortages, and motorists often wait for hours in queues at petrol stations.

Activists told the Associated Press that a single missile had struck the station.

The strike sparked a huge explosion that engulfed vehicles that had been waiting in line.

Navi Pillay said an “exhaustive” study of all deaths between 15 March 2011 and 30 November 2012 showed 59,648 had been killed between those dates.

“Given there has been no let-up in the conflict since the end of November, we can assume that more than 60,000 people have been killed by the beginning of 2013,” she said.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a UK-based activist group, had put the figure at 44,000.

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