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July 21, 2017

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Fighting rages in Syria before Brahimi's truce

AMMAN--Syrian troops bombarded a town near Damascus on Thursday and fighting raged in and around the northern city of Aleppo, a day before a proposed truce for a four-day Muslim religious holiday.

President Bashar al-Assad's government was expected to make a statement later in the day on whether it accepts the temporary cease-fire advocated by U.N.-Arab League envoy Lakhdar Brahimi.

The Syrian authorities said on Wednesday they were still studying the plan, but Russia's envoy to the United Nations said Damascus had indicated to Moscow that it would agree to it.

China urged all sides to respect a cease-fire, an idea also backed by Syria's main regional ally Iran, but there was no sign on the ground of any let-up in the violence on the eve of Eid al-Adha, the biggest feast on the Muslim religious calendar.

Syrian troops pounded Harasta, near Damascus, with tank and rocket fire, killing five people, after rebels overran two army roadblocks on the edge of the town, on the main highway from the capital to the north, opposition campaigners said.

Rebels tried to maintain pressure on two army bases on main roads leading to the contested city of Aleppo, a key prize in the 19-month-old uprising against Assad's authoritarian rule.

"No one is taking the cease-fire seriously," said Moaz al-Shami, an opposition activist in Damascus.

"How can there be a cease-fire with tanks roaming the streets, roadblocks every few hundred meters and the army having no qualms about hitting civilian neighborhoods with heavy artillery? This is a regime that has lost all credibility."

Even if Assad accepts a truce, there may be no unified response from Syria's fractured opposition. Some armed groups have said they will abide by a cease-fire. Others, including the Islamist militant Al Nusra Front, have rejected it.

In Aleppo, where opposition activists reported more fighting and shelling, the rebel Shining Aleppo Division said it would observe the cease-fire despite "doubts over the credibility of the regime" if Assad stopped moving armored units, halted air raids and released thousands of prisoners held without trial.

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