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MIDEAST >Ceasefire to begin in 3 Syria battlegrounds: Monitor

BEIRUT - Agence France-Presse

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A rebel fighter fires heavy artillery during clashes with government forces and pro-regime shabiha militiamen in the outskirts of Syria's northwestern Idlib province on September 18, 2015. AFP PHOTO / OMAR HAJ KADHOUR

A rebel fighter fires heavy artillery during clashes with government forces and pro-regime shabiha militiamen in the outskirts of Syria's northwestern Idlib province on September 18, 2015. AFP PHOTO / OMAR HAJ KADHOUR

Syrian pro-government forces and Islamist rebels have agreed to begin a ceasefire from midday on Sept.20 in three battleground districts, a monitoring group and a local official told AFP.

The truce covers the two remaining villages in Idlib province in the northwest still in government hands and the rebels' last stronghold near the Lebanese border, the town of Zabadani.
 
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said there was no immediate word on the duration of the ceasefire but the rival sides would continue negotiations for a broader truce.    

"Fighters stopped military operations early this morning, but the official ceasefire will begin at noon (0900 GMT)," Observatory chief Rami Abdel Rahman said.    

Pro-government forces launched an offensive to try to recapture Zabadani in July, prompting a rebel alliance, including Sunni Muslim extremists of Al-Qaeda, to besiege the Idlib province villages of Fuaa and Kafraya, whose residents are Shiites.    

A member of Zabadani town council, which has been involved in the truce negotiations, confirmed that the ceasefire was due to go into effect at noon.   

It comes after the rebels launched one of their fiercest attacks on Fuaa and Kafraya so far.
 
The assault began on Sept.18 with at least nine car bombs against the outskirts of the two villages -- seven of them detonated by suicide bombers.
 
At least 66 rebels, 40 pro-government militiamen and seven civilians have been killed in the fighting, according to the Observatory.    

The planned ceasefire on Sept.20 marks the third attempt to agree a truce for the three areas. Two rounds of negotiations last month failed to produce agreement.
 
Stumbling blocks have included the withdrawal of all rebel fighters from Zabadani, safe passage for civilians seeking to leave Fuaa and Kafraya, and food and medical aid for those wishing to stay.  

September/20/2015

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