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Syria ceasefire underway as UN task force meets to monitor progress

The first major truce in five years of civil war appeared to be holding early Saturday in the regions of Syria where it was declared. A taskforce is to meet to monitor the ceasefire.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group said it was quiet in the north of Latakia province and in the central province of Homs. However, state television reported that at least two people had been killed by a car bomb in Hama. The explosion came hours after the landmark "cessation of hostilities" came into effect under a US-Russian plan.

UN Syria envoy Staffan de Mistura said that peace talks would resume on March 7, if the ceasefire agreement held and more aid was delivered. "Let's pray that this works, because frankly this is the best opportunity we can imagine the Syrian people has had for the last five years in order to see something better, and hopefully something related to peace. Facts will tell," Mistura said.

On Friday night the UN Security Council gave its unanimous backing to the truce in a resolution drafted by the US and Russia. It urged all sides to "use their influence with the parties to the cessation of hostilities to ensure fulfilment of those commitments."

Syrer an der Grenze zwischen Syrien und der Türkei

Internally displaced Syrians

The UN resolution named a number of areas in serious need of aid, including eastern and western rural Aleppo and the eastern city of Deir al-Zour, which is under siege.

US Ambassador Samantha Power acknowledged there was "some scepticism" as to whether the ceasefire would last, but said it offered the "best chance to reduce the violence."

Neither the self-declared "Islamic State" (IS) or al-Qaeda affiliate Nusra Front are involved in the truce but Syria's opposition grouping, the High Negotiations Committee (HNC), said Friday that 97 opposition factions had agreed "to respect a temporary truce", but only for an initial two-week period.

The Red Cross called for an end to the fighting: "It is time for the warring parties to end this horrendous conflict and for the world powers who can influence the situation to act decisively," Red Cross President Peter Maurer said in a statement.

"The most urgent thing is to increase humanitarian aid ... Humanitarian deliveries must not depend on political negotiations," he said.

jm/rc (Reuters, AP)

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