Syria’s fledgling truce enters second day

Syria’s fledgling truce enters second day

Syria’s fledgling truce enters second day

AFP photo

Syria’s fragile cease-fire entered a second day yesterday with battlezones still largely quiet for the first time in five years, despite sporadic incidents including several air strikes.

Saudi Arabia accused President Bashar al-Assad’s regime and its ally Russia of “cease-fire violations,” while Russia said that the truce had been breached nine times over the past 24 hours but that the deal was mostly holding.

“There are violations to the cease-fire from Russian and (Syrian) regime aircraft,” Saudi Foreign Minister Adel Jubeir told reporters in Riyadh.

“We are discussing this with (the 17-nation) Syria Support Group,” co-chaired by Russia and the United States, said Jubeir.

The truce, brokered by Washington and Moscow, is seen as a crucial step towards ending a conflict that has claimed 270,000 lives and displaced more than half the population.

The convoluted patchwork of territorial control in Syria, wrapped up in a brutal civil war since 2011, has complicated efforts to implement the deal.

Warplanes, believed to be either Syrian or Russian, bombed seven villages yesterday in the northern province of Aleppo and Hama in the center, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

It was unclear if the raids hit areas covered by the cease-fire, which excludes territory held by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and al-Qaeda affiliate al-Nusra Front.

Elsewhere the situation remained mostly calm, according to AFP reporters.

In Aleppo, Syria’s second city, residents took to the streets to do their shopping after a night without any sound of fighting or air strikes, a correspondent said.

“There’s something strange in this silence. We used to go to sleep and wake up with the sound of raids and artillery,” said Abu Omar, 45, who runs a bakery in rebel-held east Aleppo.

A task force set up to monitor the deal described it on Feb. 27 as largely successful on the first day.

“The United Nations, the United States and Russia have made a positive assessment of the first hours of the cessation of hostilities,” a Western diplomat said after a meeting of the International Syria Support Group in Geneva.

The U.N. reported “some incidents” in apparent violation of the truce, but “they have been defused,” he said.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov’s office said he and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry had “hailed” the cease-fire in a phone call, and discussed ways of improving cooperation between their militaries.

U.N. envoy Staffan de Mistura has said peace talks will resume on March 7 if the cease-fire prevails and more aid is delivered -- a key sticking point in negotiations.

Russia, which has waged nearly five months of intense air strikes in support of al-Assad, said on Feb. 27 that it had halted bombing in all areas covered by the truce.

Moscow has vowed to keep striking ISIL, al-Nusra and other “terrorist groups.”    

The cease-fire breaches on Saturday included shells hitting Damascus, according to Syrian state media, and others hitting a majority-Kurdish neighborhood in Aleppo city, the Observatory said.

The city is now almost completely encircled by pro-regime troops after a massive Russian-backed offensive that has caused tens of thousands to flee.

Since the truce began, however, locals have taken to the streets to enjoy the calm as children play in parks.
Syria’s top opposition grouping, the High Negotiations Committee, said on Feb. 26 that 97 opposition factions had agreed to respect the truce, for two weeks initially.

Neighboring Israel, an arch-foe of Tehran, welcomed the cease-fire but warned it would not accept Iranian “aggression” or the supply of advanced weapons to Hezbollah, the Lebanese Shiite militia supporting Assad.

“It’s important it remains clear any agreement in Syria must include an end to Iranian aggression aimed at Israel from Syria’s territory,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said.