Cease-fire brings relative quiet to Syria
BEIRUT—A cease-fire brought relative quiet to parts of Syria for the first time in years on Saturday, offering civilians rare respite from Russian and Syrian government air strikes despite some limited breaches of the agreement brokered by Washington and Moscow.
Fighting continued against the Islamic State ( IS) group, which launched a surprise offensive on a northern town and carried out a suicide- truck bombing in central Syria. The extremist group, along with al- Qaeda’s branch in Syria, the Nusra Front, is not party to the cease- fire, which went into effect at midnight.
The cease- fire marks the most ambitious international attempt yet to reduce violence in the devastating conflict, which has killed more than 250,000 people, wounded a million and generated one of the worst refugee crises since World said Loris Atwah, a 65-year- old resident of Damascus.
“We pray to God that the ceasefire will continue,” said Ragheb Bashir Ali, 22.
In southern Syria the situation was “calm” on Saturday, according to opposition activist Ahmad al-Masalmeh, who is based in the southern city of Daraa.
Quiet also prevailed in large parts of the central province of Homs, according to Mohammed alSibai, who is based in the province.
“The situation yesterday was very bad and fighting was intense,” al- Masalmeh said. “Then it was like a football match. People were excited and once the referee blew his whistle all the noise stopped.”
The opposition’s Syrian Civil Defense, a group of first responders known as the White Helmets, posted on Twitter: “In comparison with past 4 years, today very quiet and #SyriaCeasefire holding in the main. Long may it last.”
Syria’s state- run news agency said militants fired several shells on residential areas in the capital in the first breach of the cease- fire around midday on Saturday. Sana says the shells were fired by “terrorist groups” entrenched in Jobar and Douma, two opposition- held Damascus suburbs.
It later said one person was killed and another one was wounded by sniper fire on the outskirts of the government-held Sheikh Maksoud neighborhood in Aleppo city.
Rebel groups said they have registered numerous violations by government forces across the country that could threaten the agreement.
Lt. Col. Fares al-Bayoush, commander of the 1,300-strong Fursan al-Haq Brigade, a US- backed rebel faction, told The Associated Press that his group and others affiliated with the mainstream Free Syrian Army are so far abiding by the truce.
“If they continue with these violations, we will be forced to retaliate accordingly,” he said by phone from southern Turkey. He added, however, that the cease- fire has sharply reduced government attacks across northern Syria, where his group is based.
The UN envoy for Syr i a , Staffan de Mistura said some incidents were to be expected, but that the situation after the first night and day of the ceasefire was “quite reassuring.” A top military official in Moscow said Russia has grounded its warplanes in Syria to help secure the cease- fire.
Lt.- Gen. Sergei Rudskoi said that while Russia will continue air strikes against IS and the Nusra Front, Moscow is keeping its aircraft on the ground for now “to avoid any possible mistakes.”
He said the Russian military had established hot lines to exchange information with the US military in order to help monitor the cease- fire and quickly respond to any conflict situations.
The US has provided the Russian Defense Ministry with similar maps and its own list of opposition units, which have agreed to respect the cease- fire.
Rudskoi said that according to the US-Russian agreements, a rebel unit that accidentally comes under attack should contact Russian or US representatives, who would quickly resolve the matter.
A SYRIAN covers his face as he walks between destroyed buildings in the old city of Homs on Friday. A cease-fire brought peace to parts of Syria on Saturday, but scenes of damage to properties like this show the devastation caused by the more than four years of civil war.