By John Davison
BEIRUT Dec 31 Syrian rebel groups said on
Saturday they would consider a ceasefire deal brokered by Russia
and Turkey "null and void" if the Damascus government's forces
and their allies continued to violate it.
Russia, which supports Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, has
urged the United Nations to give its blessing to the fragile
ceasefire, the third truce this year seeking to end nearly six
years of war in Syria.
Clashes and air strikes have persisted in some areas since
the ceasefire began on Friday, though the Syrian Observatory for
Human Rights, a monitoring group, said on Saturday the truce was
still largely holding.
"Continued violations by the regime and bombardment and
attempts to attack areas under the control of the revolutionary
factions will make the agreement null and void," a statement
signed by a number of rebel groups said.
The statement said government forces and their allies
including Lebanese Hezbollah had been trying to press advances,
particularly in an area northwest of Damascus in the rebel-held
Wadi Barada valley.
The Observatory, which is based in Britain, said government
forces and the rebels had clashed on Saturday in Wadi Barada.
Rebels say the army is seeking to recapture the area, where
a major spring provides most of Damascus's water supplies.
Several people were killed in violence there on Friday, the
Blasts from government shellfire were also heard in the
southern provinces of Quneitra and Deraa, the Observatory said.
Each side blames the other for continued unrest. Russia's
defence ministry said on Friday rebels had violated the truce 12
times in 24 hours.
Russia and Turkey, which backs the armed opposition to
Assad, brokered the ceasefire agreement in the hope of preparing
the way for peace talks in Kazakhstan in the new year.
In their statement, the rebels said it appeared the
government and the opposition had signed two different versions
of the ceasefire deal, one of which was missing "a number of key
and essential points that are non-negotiable", but did not say
what those were.
There has been confusion over which groups in the opposition
are included in the ceasefire. Islamic State, which has made
enemies of all sides in the conflict, is not included.
The Syrian army said on Thursday the militant group formerly
known as the Nusra Front was not part of the truce. However,
several rebel officials said the group, which has been renamed
Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, was also included in the ceasefire deal.
(Reporting by John Davison; Editing by Gareth Jones)