Syria ceasefire takes effect under US-Russia deal
Aleppo // A ceasefire brokered by Russia and the United States took effect in Syria last night with clashes up until the final minutes and the most powerful rebel groups still not committed to the truce.
The initial 48-hour truce came into force at 7pm local time across Syria except in areas held by extremist groups like ISIL.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said it was “quiet” on nearly all fronts across the country.
Syria’s armed forces immediately announced a seven-day “freeze” on military operations, lasting to midnight next Sunday.
But opposition forces had yet to formally sign the agreement and the deal’s fragility was underscored just hours before the sunset when Bashar Al Assad vowed to retake the whole country from “terrorists”.
The agreement announced on Friday has been billed as the best chance yet to halt the bloodshed in Syria’s five-year civil war.
As well as bringing a temporary end to the fighting, it aims to provide crucial aid to hundreds of thousands of desperate civilians.
In Aleppo, divided between a rebel-held east and regime-controlled west since mid-2012, fighting appeared to have stopped as the ceasefire took effect.
“I was checking the time all day, waiting for it to turn 7pm,” said Khaled Al Muraweh, a 38-year-old shopkeeper in the Furqan district of western Aleppo.
“I hope the ceasefire holds so I can see my brother who lives in the opposition-held part of the city.”
Just moments before the ceasefire came into force, the Observatory reported three people killed in regime shelling of Douma near Damascus.
Thirteen civilians were also killed in strikes in Idlib province on Monday afternoon. Bombardment rocked the central town of Talbisseh all day, finally quieting down as the truce came into effect.
“We spent Eid in our bomb shelters and basements,” said Hassan Abu Nuh. “For the past half hour, we haven’t heard anything, but we aren’t very hopeful... For Eid, I’m just planning on staying alive.”
The ceasefire will be renewed every 48 hours and, if it holds for a week, Moscow and Washington will begin unprecedented joint targeting of extremist forces.
World powers have thrown their weight behind this new deal after several rounds of peace efforts failed to end the conflict that has killed more than 400,000.
But Syria’s opposition and rebels are deeply sceptical and have asked for guarantees before endorsing the deal.
“We fear that Russia will classify all the Free Syrian Army [rebel factions] as terrorists,” said Salem Al Muslet from the High Negotiations Committee, the main opposition umbrella group.
Rebel groups on Sunday sent a letter to Washington saying they would “deal positively with the idea of the ceasefire” but listed several “concerns” and stopped short of a full endorsement.
Published: September 13, 2016 04:00 AM