Barrel Bombs in Syria's Aleppo Threaten New Truce

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Barrels bombs hit Syria's Aleppo on Thursday just hours after a temporary truce announced by regime ally Russia came into effect in the northern war-torn city.

An AFP reporter said regime helicopters dropped the crude explosive devices on the city's rebel areas after residents had headed to markets for their first morning shopping in weeks.

Aleppo has seen some of the worst fighting in a war that has killed more than 280,000 people, and there is deep skepticism that the latest halt to fighting in the battered city will last.

The two-day truce came hours after U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry warned Moscow that Washington's patience was running out over breaches of a nationwide ceasefire.

Peace talks aimed at ending the five-year conflict have stalled and a February countrywide ceasefire between the regime and non-jihadist rebels lies in tatters.

"There is no progress in the political process," Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said at an economic forum in Saint Petersburg, referring to Syria.

He accused Washington, which supports Syrian rebels, of being "unable or unwilling to put pressure on its allies in the region."

Nevertheless, direct contact between Russia and the United States about Syria have taken place "without any hysteria," he added.

There have been repeated violations of the February 27 truce in Aleppo, with rebels pounding regime-controlled neighborhoods with rocket and artillery fire and the regime hitting rebel areas with air strikes.

- 'Artificial and fruitless' -

The new 48-hour ceasefire was announced by Moscow late Wednesday in a bid to halt violence in the city, split since 2012 between a regime-held west and a rebel-controlled east.

"On Russia's initiative, a 'regime of silence' has been introduced in Aleppo for 48 hours from 00:01 16 June (2101 GMT Wednesday) with the goal of lowering the level of armed violence and stabilizing the situation," Russian's defense ministry said.

A source close to the regime on Thursday told AFP the local truce had been decided "in connivance" with Washington.

Residents in Aleppo's rebel-held east had headed out to the markets to buy meat and vegetables on Thursday morning, the AFP correspondent said.

After weeks of air strikes, it was the first time they had shopped in the morning since the start of the holy Muslim month of Ramadan.

Syria's conflict has drawn in world powers who back opposing sides, including the United States -- which broadly supports the opposition -- and Russia on the side of President Bashar Assad.

A Syria analyst, Karim Bitar, described the latest local truce in Aleppo as a "ceasefire of convenience, which is not linked to a real political process."

"Syrians are increasingly skeptical about these brief ceasefires, which seem to have become as artificial and fruitless and the negotiation sessions -- which each time revive hopes then end in bitter disappointment."

- 'Rest for the killers' -

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights -- which relies on sources inside Syria to gather information on the war -- agreed.

"This temporary truce of a few hours doesn't aim to end the bloodshed, but to give some rest to the killers -- those who massacre the people of Aleppo and Syria -- before they resume their crimes," the Observatory said in a statement.

A U.S.-led coalition has been bombing the Islamic State jihadist group -- which is not included in the February ceasefire -- since 2014.

CIA chief John Brennan said on Thursday that IS has suffered major losses as a result, but that it retains the ability to conduct attacks around the world.

U.N.-backed Syria peace talks in Geneva came to a deadlock in April after the opposition walked out over increasing violence and lack of humanitarian access to besieged areas.

The United Nations says nearly 600,000 Syrians live in besieged areas, most surrounded by government forces.

Dozens of opposition activist groups this week accused the U.N. of "capitulating" to Damascus on aid access in a report based on testimonies from current and former U.N. staff and other aid workers.

The U.N. humanitarian coordinator for Syria, Yacoub El Hillo, said that while aid access was not ideal, the U.N. continues to "assist Syrians based on need."

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