BEIRUT (Reuters) - Syrian government jets bombed a rebel-held district of Homs city in the west of the country on Wednesday, killing several people, rescue workers and a monitoring group reported.
A pro-Damascus media outlet said Syrian planes targeted militants in al-Waer neighbourhood after the insurgents fired at civilian areas in government-held Homs.
It was a rare deadly flare-up in the area. Al-Waer has for months been spared the intense bombardment by Syrian and Russian air forces suffered by other areas including Idlib province, controlled by President Bashar al-Assad’s opponents.
The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said at least eight people were killed in the government bombardment.
The Syrian Civil Defence, a rescue service operating in rebel-held territory, did not give a figure, but said on its Facebook page that its centre in al-Waer was hit, wounding a staff member, and that there were fatalities elsewhere including women and children.
An opposition media activist in al-Waer, who gave his name as Osama Abu-Zeid, said that it had been months since the last significant bombardment of the area. “Yesterday it suddenly escalated,” he told Reuters via internet message.
A military media unit run by Assad’s ally Hezbollah said the army had fired rockets and that planes had carried out three strikes against militants in al-Waer, who it said had violated a shaky ceasefire across parts of western Syria.
The Observatory reported at least one person wounded by rockets that landed in the government-controlled Abbasiya neighbourhood in Homs.
The Syrian government has tried to conclude a deal in al-Waer that would see rebel fighters and their families evacuate the district and the government take over. Under similar local agreements in other parts of western Syria, rebels have left with light weapons and headed mostly for Idlib.
Assad said on Wednesday that local reconciliation agreements were the “most effective way to end the war and move towards a political solution,” state news agency SANA reported.
The opposition says such agreements 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 area. The Observatory estimates several thousand rebels remain in the district.
The ceasefire brokered by Russia, which backs Assad, and Turkey, which supports rebels fighting to unseat him, took effect on Dec. 30.
It has been fragile since the start, with the government side and rebels accusing the other of violations. The truce does not include Islamic State or al Qaeda-linked fighters.
On Wednesday shells fired by rebels into Aleppo city in northern Syria killed at least two people, SANA reported.
The Syrian Red Crescent said four of its volunteers were wounded, one critically, as they distributed aid in the Hamdaniya district.
Government forces drove rebels from their last remaining districts in Aleppo in December in a major victory for Assad. Shellfire has hit the city on several occasions since then.
Reporting by John Davison; Editing by Dominic Evans