Syrian children play under quiet skies after ‘significant drop in violence’

Some fighting but by daybreak, the guns fell silent.
Syrian youths at a cafe in the government-held area of the northern Syrian city of Aleppo as they celebrate the Eid al-Adha Muslim holiday on September 13, 2016, a day after a fragile ceasefire was brokered. Youssef Karwashan / AFP
Syrian youths at a cafe in the government-held area of the northern Syrian city of Aleppo as they celebrate the Eid al-Adha Muslim holiday on September 13, 2016, a day after a fragile ceasefire was brokered. Youssef Karwashan / AFP

Aleppo // Syrian children played under quiet skies on Tuesday as a fragile truce held, but their parents were waiting for much-needed food, fuel and medicine to enter the country’s besieged areas.

Across the country there was a significant drop in violence since a cessation of hostilities came into effect, the UN Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura said.

Although there was some fighting after sunset on Monday, by early morning the guns had fallen quiet, and UN aid trucks should be able to move very soon, he said.

“Today calm appears to have prevailed across Hama, Latakia, Aleppo city and Rural Aleppo and Idlib, with only some allegations of sporadic and geographically isolated incidents,” Mr de Mistura told reporters in Geneva.

“Sources on the ground, including inside Aleppo city, said the situation has dramatically improved with no air strikes.”

In the Shaar neighbourhood of rebel-held eastern Aleppo, children laughed as they ran through the streets, enjoying an opportunity to escape the confines of homes and bomb shelters.

One group played football under the remains of a destroyed bridge, while others pushed each other on swings.

For Syria’s adults, the welcome quiet was tempered by anxiety about when the humanitarian aid promised under the Russian-US accord might finally arrive.

“The truce is good, but it’s not enough. We want food to come in,” said Abu Jamil, a resident of the Ansari neighbourhood in besieged eastern Aleppo.

“The situation is still bad as the markets are empty,” the 55-year-old said.

The UN said aid convoys could not begin moving until security was assured, and the process of assessing the truce’s durability was taking time.

No aid has entered eastern Aleppo since early July, and residents there are among hundreds of thousands of people living under sieges in Syria.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitor reported minor violations by both government and rebel forces in different parts of the country, but no deaths or major fighting.

The government accused the opposition of a series of violations, with its ally Moscow saying Syrian government forces were fully respecting the truce but that rebels had violated it 23 times.

“Syrian government troops have completely stopped firing” except in extremist-held areas, but “the same cannot be said for armed units of the moderate opposition controlled by the US,” said Viktor Poznikhir, a senior Russian military officer.

US secretary of state John Kerry had said earlier that it was “far too early to draw conclusions” about the success of the ceasefire but urged all sides to seize the opportunity.

“For all the doubts that remain, and there will be challenges in the days to come, this plan has a chance to work,” he said of the deal he agreed on Friday with Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov.

“I urge all the parties to support it because it may be the last chance that one has to save a united Syria.”

The lull in violence was a rare respite for Syrians, where more than half the population has been displaced.

“We usually stay up all night with the airplanes, but thank God last night we could all sleep,” said activist Hassaan Abu Nuh in opposition-held Talbisseh in central Syria.

It was also quiet in the largely rebel-held northwestern province of Idlib, where air strikes killed 13 people on Monday.

The peace deal is the latest in a succession of attempts to end the fighting in Syria.

It calls for the truce to be renewed every 48 hours, and immediate humanitarian aid access, particularly to civilians living under siege.

Bashar Al Assad’s government warned, meanwhile, that all aid going to Aleppo, particularly assistance sent by Turkey, must be coordinated with his forces and the United Nations.

Russia said its troops had been deployed on the key Castello Road running from Turkey into Aleppo that is to become a demilitarised zone under the deal.

If the ceasefire holds for a week, Moscow and Washington will then begin an unprecedented joint campaign to target extremists, including ISIL and former AL Qaeda affiliate Jabhat Fateh Al Sham.

But there is still deep scepticism about whether the truce will last, with the opposition yet to officially sign on and demanding guarantees on how the ceasefire will be monitored.

A joint statement issued by nearly two dozen rebel groups late on Monday said they could not support the ceasefire while civilian suffering continued.

Saudi Arabia, one of the main supporters of the rebels, on Tuesday welcomed a ceasefire in Syria and said it hoped the deal would lead to a resumption of peace talks to end war in the country.

*Agence France-Presse and Reuters

Published: September 13, 2016 04:00 AM

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