‘Last Chance’ Syria Truce Holding on First Full Day
(AFP) – A Syria ceasefire billed as the “last chance” for peace appeared to be holding on its first full day Tuesday, with residents across the country reporting a quiet night and anxious for aid.
The truce brokered by Russia and the United States saw guns fall silent at sundown on Monday, with the next anticipated step being urgent relief deliveries to desperate civilians.
In second city Aleppo — a key battleground in recent weeks — AFP correspondents in both the rebel-held east and the government-held west reported the night had passed without air strikes or rocket fire.
Residents remained out on the streets until midnight, taking advantage of the lull in fighting to celebrate the first day of the Muslim Eid al-Adha holiday.
AFP correspondents in the government-held capital and its rebel-controlled suburbs reported they too were quiet.
Britain-based monitoring group the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the main battlefronts were “completely calm”.
US Secretary of State John Kerry told reporters in Washington it was “far too early to draw conclusions” about the success of the ceasefire but urged all sides to seize the opportunity.
“For all the doubts that remain, and there will be challenges in the days to come, this plan has a chance to work,” he said of the deal he agreed on Friday with his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov.
“I urge all the parties to support it because it may be the last chance that one has to save a united Syria,” he added.
– ‘We could sleep’ –
In the opposition-held central town of Talbisseh, which came under heavy fire in the run-up to the truce, activist Hassaan Abu Nuh said the regime bombardment had stopped.
“We usually stay up all night with the airplanes, but thank God last night we could all sleep,” he told AFP.
In the largely rebel-held northwestern province of Idlib, where air strikes killed 13 people on Monday, an activist reported a quiet night too.
“This time, we were able to sleep well. Last night was amazing,” Nayef Mustafa told AFP from the town of Salqin.
But he voiced scepticism about whether the truce would last.
“People are only expecting it to stay calm for the (Eid) holiday,” he said.
The deal is the latest in a succession of attempts to end fighting between government forces and non-jihadist rebels.
The Islamic State group and former Al-Qaeda affiliate Fateh al-Sham Front are not party to it.
Previous efforts to end the conflict which has killed more than 290,000 people since 2011 have all ended in failure.
The deal foresees the ceasefire being swiftly followed by deliveries of desperately needed aid to the hundreds of thousands of civilians who live in besieged areas, in particular the rebel-held east of Aleppo.
The ceasefire is to be renewed every 48 hours and, if it holds for a week, Moscow and Washington will begin an unprecedented joint campaign to target jihadist forces.
Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov said UN special envoy Staffan de Mistura could invite government and opposition representatives to new peace talks “at the very beginning of October”.
Kerry said a return to UN-mediated peace talks was the only “realistic and possible solution”.
– Rebels say ‘no choice’ –
The opposition has yet to formally sign on to the truce, demanding guarantees on how it will be monitored before granting its endorsement.
A joint statement issued by nearly two dozen rebel groups late on Monday said they could not support the ceasefire until the plight of civilians ended.
The rebels said that until that happened they had “no choice… but to pursue the fight against the regime and its allies until the last bullet and the last fighter.”
A crucial part of the deal calls on non-jihadist rebels to break ranks with Fateh al-Sham ahead of joint US-Russian operations against the former Al-Qaeda affiliate.
But many Islamist rebel groups cooperate closely with Fateh al-Sham, and the biggest of them — the powerful Ahrar al-Sham group — has rejected the terms of the Russian-US deal.
Damascus and its allies have backed the truce, with the Syrian army saying it would observe a seven-day “freeze” on military operations in the country.
But on Monday, President Bashar al-Assad said the regime remained “determined to recover every area from the terrorists”.
“The armed forces are continuing their work, relentlessly and without hesitation, regardless of internal or external circumstances,” he said as he toured a former rebel stronghold near Damascus.