Syrian truce holding despite minor clashes | News | DW | 30.12.2016
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Syrian truce holding despite minor clashes

A nationwide truce was largely holding across Syria, with Russia and Turkey throwing their weight behind the deal aimed to facilitate fresh peace talks. This is the third attempt at a truce in the last 12 months.

Government forces clashed with jihadis early Friday near the town Mahardah in Hama province, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said, while also reporting isolated violence near Damascus.

Despite the minor clashes, however, the group said it detected no "large violations" since the ceasefire started, according to Observatory Director Rami Abdel Rahman.

Russia and Turkey brokered the break in fighting that was accepted by the regime and several key rebel groups on Thursday.

"The agreement includes a ceasefire in all areas held by the moderate opposition, or by the moderate opposition and elements from Fateh al-Sham, such as Idlib province," said Ahmed Ramadan, a member of the National Coalition opposition body.

According to Moscow and Damascus, the truce does not apply to the so-called "Islamic State" (IS) militia or the group formerly known as the Nusra Front. However, some rebel officials stated that the agreement did apply to the group, which has recently changed its name to Jabhat Fateh al-Sham. The confusion could destabilize the fragile calm, as several relatively moderate rebel groups are allied with the former al Qaeda affiliate.

Watch video 00:39

Gunfire reported after Syria ceasefire

'This time I have confidence'

The United States and Russia brokered two countrywide peace deals in February and September. Both of those deals, however, collapsed within weeks.

Commenting on the latest effort, a commander in the Free Syrian Army said he was optimistic about the outlook for peace.

"This time I have confidence in its seriousness," Colonel Fares al-Bayoush said. "There is new international input."

Washington, which was not included in the plans, hailed the truce agreement as a "positive development."

Moscow waiting for Trump

Russian President Vladimir Putin said the warring sides were ready to take part in peace talks scheduled for next month in the capital of Kazakhstan, Astana. The talks should start "soon," according to Syrian state television.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said the United States could join the peace process after US President-elect Donald Trump takes office on January 20. The Kremlin also wants to enlist the help of Egypt and Saudi Arabia, along with several other Arab nations.

The regime representatives would enter the upcoming talks with a strong negotiating position, boosted by their recent victory of Aleppo. The long-divided city has been placed under regime control after weeks of intense fighting with Russian air support.

On Friday, Putin said he would now reduce Moscow military forces in Syria, but added Russia would keep fighting "terrorism" and support the Damascus regime.

dj/sms (AFP, Reuters, AP)


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