Cease-fire breached in Syria
Despite an informal peace plan, a car bomb explodes and government ground forces kill rebel soldiers
Hours after the informal midnight cease-fire came into force in Syria, at least two people were killed and several others wounded when a car bomb exploded and three rebel soldiers were shot dead by government ground forces. In the east of Hama province, a car bomb exploded at the entrance of Salamiya just as the country was taking a breather from hostilities as part of a US and Russian plan for peace.
However, the cessation does not apply to Islamic State, or to al-Qaeda affiliate the al-Nusra Front.
The Syrian government and Moscow have said they will not halt combat against those militants. The al-Nusra Front has called for an escalation of attacks.
“The car bomb attack is not a breach to the truce because it occurred in an area where the cessation of hostilities agreement does not apply,” said Rami Abdulrahman of the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
At around 4am yesterday, three rebel soldiers with the First Coastal Division were killed while repelling the attack in the Jabal Turkman area near the Turkish border in Latakia province, northwest of the country.
First Coastal Division spokesperson Fadi Ahmad said the killing of their members was a “violation [of the agreement]”.
“Currently, the regime has halted the attack,” he said.
The First Coastal Division is part of a loose alliance of rebel groups known as the Free Syrian Army.
Northwestern Syria is one of the areas where the al-Nusra Front operates near rebel groups that have approved the cessation of hostilities.
Ahmad said the positions attacked yesterday are controlled by his group, and the al-Nusra Front has no presence there.
The Syrian government has said it will respect the agreement drawn up by Russia and the US, but that it will continue to fight the al-Qaedalinked al-Nusra Front and the Islamic State, which are not covered by the deal.
Under the US-Russian accord accepted by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s government and many of his enemies, fighting should cease so aid can reach civilians and talks can open to end a war that has killed more than 250 000 people and made 11 million homeless.
The truce is the culmination of new diplomatic efforts that reflect a battlefield dramatically changed since Russia joined the war in September with air strikes to prop up al-Assad. Moscow’s intervention effectively destroyed the hope his enemies have maintained for five years – encouraged by Arab and Western states – to topple him by force.
The fragile agreement is the first of its kind to be attempted in four years and, if it holds, would be the most successful truce of the war so far.
But there are many weak spots in the agreement, which has not been directly signed by the Syrian warring parties and is less binding than a formal ceasefire. Importantly, it does not cover powerful jihadist groups such as the Islamic State and the al-Nusra Front.
“Let’s pray that this works because, frankly, this is the best opportunity we can imagine the Syrian people have had for the past five years to see something better and hopefully something related to peace,” UN Syria envoy Staffan de Mistura said in Geneva.
He said he expected occasional breaches of the agreement, but called on the parties to show restraint and curb escalations.