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Progress 'visible' in Syria ceasefire, says UN envoy

The Syrian ceasefire has led to a "huge drop" in civilian casualties, according to a human rights watchdog. But the UN envoy noted that "success is not guaranteed," signaling uncertainty ahead of scheduled peace talks.

UN Syria envoy Staffan de Mistura on Thursday told reporters in Geneva that the "cessation of hostilities" among government forces, rebels and foreign fighters in Syria has "greatly reduced" violence in the country.

"The cessation of hostilities has been in place for six days and it has had an effect," de Mistura noted.

"The situation … on the ground could be summarized as fragile," de Mistura added. "Success is not guaranteed, but progress has been visible."

The UN envoy also noted that he has set a "penciled date" for March 9 to restart peace talks that stalled shortly after starting in early February.

"The UN-backed

ceasefire brokered by the United States and Russia

went into effect on Saturday, a measure that has allowed international relief organizations to provide aid to besieged cities.

However, fighting continued in areas held by the "Islamic State" militant group and al-Qaeda-affiliated al-Nusra Front, which are not covered by the ceasefire.

De Mistura's humanitarian task force chief Jan Egeland said

aid organizations have seen progress

in delivering aid to besieged areas of Syria.

"The lack of access in Syria has been one of the greatest challenges for humanitarian organizations in a generation," Egeland said.

"With the cessation of hostilities, this access could be the game changer in Syria we have been waiting [on] for a very long time," he added.

Watch video 03:57

Syria's nonviolent resistance

'Huge drop' in civilian casualties

Rami Abdel Rahman, who heads the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, told the AFP news agency that Syria witnessed a "huge drop" in civilian casualties since the ceasefire took effect.

He noted that the daily average of civilian deaths for February had reached 38.

"Compare that number to Friday, the day before the truce came into effect: 63 civilians, including 11 children, died that day alone," said Rahman.

More than 250,000 Syrians have been killed since the conflict started in March 2011 after government forces violently cracked down on nonviolent protesters calling for President Bashar al-Assad to step down.

ls/sms (AFP, Reuters, AP)

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