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Deadly Attacks in Syria Ahead of Cease-Fire

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Three young siblings killed along with their mother. A pregnant woman lying dead under a fallen roof.

BEIRUT: Blood flood everywhere. Bags of body parts.Three young siblings killed along with their mother. A pregnant woman lying dead under a fallen roof.

Syrians witness these scenes almost on a daily basis frequently after marketplace bombings in the northern Syrian city of Idlib. The carnage from Russian or government airstrikes in the two days since Russia and the United States declared that a new cease-fire would begin on Monday.

At least 91 people were killed and scores more wounded in two days of attacks on rebel-held areas around the country, mainly in Idlib and in the divided city of Aleppo, according to tallies by doctors, rescuers and monitoring groups. The violence has deepened mistrust among Syrians that the cease-fire, agreed on late Friday, will deliver on its promise to ground the government planes that opposition groups say cause the war’s greatest death toll.

Rebels, who have no air power, also attacked government-held areas, mainly with mortar shells. The Syrian state news media reported rebel shelling in several cities — Damascus, Aleppo, Hama and Dara’a — but did not say whether there were casualties.

In any war, it is common for the parties to escalate attacks in the days or hours before a truce, and in this case the uptick was sharp.

“I will tell my expectations for the coming two days,” Abdelkafi al-Hamdo, a teacher and an anti-government activist, said in a text message minutes after the deal between the United States and Russia was announced.

“Assad will try to kill as much as possible before the claimed cease-fire,” he said, referring to President Bashar al-Assad. “A lot of shelling and bombs will fall upon civilians, especially the almost empty markets.”

On Saturday, airstrikes hit Idlib, Aleppo and the Damascus suburb of Douma. On Sunday, Mr. Hamdo wrote grimly, “We know what Assad and Russia are.”

Russian officials have denied that their warplanes have been responsible for a single civilian casualty in nearly a year of airstrikes; the monitoring group Airwars.org estimates the number at more than 3,000.

The heaviest strikes over the weekend happened in Idlib, a province held by insurgents ranging from the Qaeda-linked group formerly known as the Nusra Front, which recently changed its name to the Levant Conquest Front, to rebel groups backed by the United States.

The strikes hit a marketplace as people shopped for Eid al-Adha, or the Feast of the Sacrifice, a major Muslim holiday. The cease-fire is set to begin on Monday at sundown, when the holiday starts.

“Idlib’s people got a gift for the feast,” said Mohammad Najdat Kaddour, a resident of the nearby town of Binnish who went to Idlib to film the aftermath. “This was their gift.”

“People decided to go out after hearing there was a truce on Eid,” he said via internet chat. He said he was incensed not only at the Syrian government, but also at the United States for supporting a deal he considered worthless.

“Do you believe there’s something called a truce?” he said. “They are all a bunch of criminals.”

Residents compiled a list of the dead, including three young siblings, Sidra, Abdelkareem and Mohammad Arafa, who had been killed along with their mother. Videos from the scene posted online showed piles of rubble and overturned carts, and the bodies of children and adults.

In Douma, residents reported the deaths of two young brothers who had lost a third brother last year.

In Aleppo, doctors reported new casualties on Sunday morning from another round of barrel bombing. Youssef Mohamamd Almosto, 60, was reported dead; a 36-year-old man had a leg amputated; and several children were treated for injuries.

Syrian armed opposition groups were debating whether to accept the terms of the deal, which calls for a complete halt to violence for seven days, followed by joint operations by the United States and Russia against designated terrorist groups like the Islamic State and the former Nusra. Opposition groups — including those strongly against Al Qaeda and the Islamic State — widely believe the deal is stacked against them. The Islamist group Ahrar al-Sham said on Sunday that it would not accept the cease-fire terms.

Yet virtually all Syrians would welcome a respite from fighting and bombing, as was provided under a short-lived cease-fire in February. They may be willing to give it a try, even though the Russian and American officials who brokered it have themselves voiced doubts that it will work.

Other opposition groups have been warned that they may also be hit by airstrikes if they do not leave areas where Nusra is present or remove the militant group itself — something not always possible for weaker groups to do without abandoning their home areas.

The plan accepts the presence on the battlefield of other groups designated as terrorists by the United States — such as Hezbollah — that are battling on the side of the Syrian government, and considers them parties to the cease-fire.

Iran, Hezbollah and the Syrian government have all declared that they accept the deal.

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