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Syrians resume peaceful street protests

For the first time in years, hundreds of Syrians nationwide used a ceasefire to resume anti-government protests. European leaders also called on Russia to continue supporting the shaky cessation of hostilities deal.

Hundreds of Syrians living in rebel-held areas held peaceful anti-government protests Friday, taking advantage of a

shaky truce not yet a week old.

A ceasefire brokered by the United States and Russia went into effect on February 27 in large parts of Syria. The truce excludes the "Islamic State" and al-Nusra Front militant Islamist groups.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Francois Hollande

met in Paris on Friday

and spoke to Russian President Vladimir Putin by phone urging Moscow to continue to support the "cessation of hostilities" agreement that's largely held since February 27.

The UN Syria envoy, Staffan de Mistura, on Friday also said that when it comes to determining the country's future, it should be Syrians making the decision rather than foreign powers.

"We have said that it is to be a Syrian-led solution, a Syrian owned (solution)," said de Mistura in an interview with France 24 television. "Can't we leave the Syrians to actually decide on that? Why should we be saying in advance what should the Syrians say, as long as they have the freedom and the opportunity of saying so?"

Back to basics

Waving the three-starred flag that has become the uprising's emblem, demonstrators in Aleppo, Damascus, Daraa and Homs called for the downfall of President Bashar al-Assad's regime.

"You could say we've gone back to the beginning," Hasaan Abu Nuh, an activist from the flashpoint rebel town of Talbisseh in central Homs province, told the AFP news agency.

The war in Syria began in March 2011 with widespread - though largely peaceful protests against Assad's regime. Demonstrations were at their largest on Fridays after prayers, and activists early on began assigning themes to the weekly marches.

By 2013, a fierce government crackdown, an influx of radical foreign fighters and heavy shelling had stamped out most attempts to stage peaceful street protests.

Syrien Präsident Bashar al-Assad

Syria's conflict, which erupted in March 2011 as a popular uprising against President Bashar Assad's rule - quickly descended into an all-out civil war.

Half of Syria's population displaced

More than 270,000 people have been killed since fighting began in Syria, and millions have been displaced in the past five years. More than half of Syria's pre-war population of 22.4 million has been internally displaced or forced to flee their homeland.

On the first Friday since the truce began, crowds across the country returned to the streets, waving banners reading "The Revolution Continues!"

"People are so, so happy. There was crying, there was joy, but there was also a lump in people's throats," Abu Nuh told AFP by telephone. "There were a lot of young guys that used to protest with us who weren't there today because they've been killed."

In the city of Aleppo, hundreds of people took to the streets in the opposition-held eastern neighborhoods.

"With this truce, we have the opportunity to express why we came out to the streets in the first place, which is the downfall of the regime," Abu Nadim, an activist in the city, told AFP as he painted "Long live Syria, may Assad fall!" ahead of a protest where nearly 100 people marched carrying similar signs.

The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that protests also took place in the towns of Atareb and Azaz in Aleppo province, parts of Idlib province in the northwest, and Daraa in the south.

Electricity returned to most areas of the country on Friday, a day after

a massive blackout, the cause of which remains unknown.

Internet service was also restored.

jar/sms (AFP, dpa)

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