Syria cease-fire holding, as only sporadic minor fighting seen

Syrian children play on a street in a residential suburb of the Syrian capital Damascus, on the second day of the Eid al-Adha Muslim holiday. Picture: Getty
Syrian children play on a street in a residential suburb of the Syrian capital Damascus, on the second day of the Eid al-Adha Muslim holiday. Picture: Getty
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The ceasefire in Syria appeared to be holding yesterday, despite sporadic and minor violations, according to Syrian opposition activists and monitoring groups.

Rami Abdurrahman from the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said yesterday “calm is prevailing” in most of the country since the Monday truce, although there were minor violations in central Hama province.

Another activist group, the Local Co-ordination Committees, reported some shelling in the city of Aleppo and the southern region of Quneitra, while state media said there were “breaches” of the truce by rebels in the city.

Meanwhile, the UN humanitarian aid coordinator said the aid agency needed to make sure its staff and partners were “not in mortal danger” before starting convoys into parts of Syria.

OCHA spokesman Jens Laerke said humanitarian aid teams are ready to move into areas such as Aleppo.

He said the agency needs “peace to be reinstated before we can go in”.

The deal, hammered out by US Secretary of State John Kerry and his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov last week, officially came into effect at sunset on Monday. The Syrian army said it would abide by the cease-fire until midnight on Sunday, while maintaining its right to defend itself against any violations.

Syria’s largest insurgent groups have expressed misgivings about the deal, which allows for strikes against al-Qaida-linked militants who fight alongside the rebels. Jabhat Fatah al-Sham, an al-Qaida-linked group previously known as the Nusra Front, has denounced the agreement.

The deal marks the second attempt this year to try reduce violence in war-torn Syria, where the five year conflict has killed more than 250,000 people and displaced half the country’s population of 11 million. A truce in late February collapsed weeks later.

The first week of the truce will be crucial. During that time, all fighting between Syrian President Bashar Assad’s forces and the rebels is to stop. If the calm holds for seven days, the US and Russian militaries would then set up a new centre to coordinate strikes against IS and Jabhat Fatah al-Sham.

Under the truce, Assad’s forces are no longer supposed to bomb Syria’s opposition. The Syrian air force has been dropping barrel bombs on civilian areas under the pretext of targeting militants.

The deal’s architects hope the cease-fire will pave the way for an extended period of restraint that can serve as the foundation for peace talks. As the cease-fire came into effect, Kerry urged Syrian rebels to distance themselves from al-Qaida-linked militants.

Russia is pushing to make public the text of the cease-fire deal, but Lavrov told reporters that the US opposes such a move.

Lavrov said Moscow “has nothing to hide” and wants the UN.Security Council to formally approve the Syria truce deal as well.

The Observatory meanwhile said more than 300,000 people have been killed since the conflict began in 2011. It said on Tuesday that the dead include 59,000 government troops and more than 86,000 civilians. The rest include rebels, foreign fighters, Hezbollah militants, defectors from the Syrian army and others.

The Observatory says its records show that 301,781 people have been killed in Syria from March 2011 until the truce went into effect.

The group says the real death toll could be 70,000 higher since many insurgent groups don’t announce their deaths and because there are other deaths that are not documented.

The U.N. stopped tracking deaths in the Syria conflict last year.

Its last official count was 250,000 dead.