Syria's warring sides trade fire as peace talks convene

FILE PHOTO: A man rests near a damaged house after an airstrike on al-Yadouda village, in Deraa Governorate, Syria February 15, 2017. REUTERS/Alaa Al-Faqir/File Photo

BEIRUT (Reuters) - Syrian jets bombed rebel-held areas of Aleppo, Deraa and Hama provinces and insurgents fired rockets at government targets on Thursday, just as peace talks were set to resume in Geneva after a 10-month hiatus, a war monitoring group said.

An intense air and artillery bombardment of rebel-held suburbs on the western outskirts of Aleppo, where the army and its allies advanced on Wednesday, killed 24 insurgents, the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

In the southern province of Deraa, where clashes have intensified over the past week, Islamist insurgents detonated a car bomb and government helicopters dropped barrel bombs, the Observatory reported.

The Geneva talks are taking place after nearly two months of an increasingly shaky ceasefire between the government and rebels, with each side accusing the other of violations.

President Bashar al-Assad, who is backed by Russia and Iran, has gained the military advantage over the past year. Damascus calls all insurgents terrorists.

Hardline jihadist groups such as Islamic State are excluded from the truce, which took effect on Dec. 30, brokered by Russia and Turkey, which supports the rebels.

A military media unit run by Syria’s Lebanese ally Hezbollah said on Thursday that Syrian and Russian warplanes carried out a number of air strikes against Islamic State in the eastern city of Deir al-Zor, most of which the group controls.

Reporting by John Davison; Editing by Andrew Roche