Cease-fire breached in Syria

De­spite an in­for­mal peace plan, a car bomb ex­plodes and govern­ment ground forces kill rebel sol­diers

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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.

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