Cease-fire brings rel­a­tive quiet to Syria

Business Mirror - - THE WORLD -

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.

AP/HAS­SAN AMMAR

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.

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