A ceasefire billed as the “last chance” for peace in Syria appears to be holding on its first full day in Aleppo, with residents of the city’s regime-held neighbourhoods enjoying a rare respite from years of violence.
Residents of regime-held Aleppo enjoy day of calm as truce holds
‘Last chance’ Syria truce holding on first full dayAleppo (Syria) – 13 September 2016 14:15 – AFP (Karam al-Masri and Maher al-Mounes) / WRAP – UPDATE A ceasefire billed as the “last chance” for peace in Syria appeared to be holding on its first full day Tuesday, with residents nationwide reporting a rare respite from years of violence.The truce brokered by Russia and the United States saw guns fall silent at sundown on Monday, in the latest bid to end a conflict that has killed more than 300,000 people since it began in March 2011.The agreement aims to bring an end to fighting between President Bashar al-Assad’s forces and a wide range of rebels but excludes jihadist forces like the Islamic State group.In second city Aleppo — a key battleground in recent weeks — AFP correspondents in both the rebel-held east and the government-held west reported the night and early morning had passed without air strikes or rocket fire.AFP correspondents in the government-held capital Damascus and its rebel-controlled suburbs reported quiet there too, with residents taking advantage of the lull in violence to mark the Eid al-Adha Muslim holiday.The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitor said the main battlefronts were “completely calm”.Syrian state media reported several alleged rebel violations of the ceasefire in central Homs province and south of Aleppo city, but there were no reports of significant violence or casualties.US Secretary of State John Kerry told reporters in Washington it was “far too early to draw conclusions” about the success of the ceasefire but urged all sides to seize the opportunity.- ‘We could sleep’ -“For all the doubts that remain, and there will be challenges in the days to come, this plan has a chance to work,” he said of the deal he agreed on Friday with Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov.”I urge all the parties to support it because it may be the last chance that one has to save a united Syria,” he added.The lull in violence was a rare respite for residents of the war-ravaged country, where more than half the population has been displaced and hundreds of thousands live under siege.”We usually stay up all night with the airplanes, but thank God last night we could all sleep,” said activist Hassaan Abu Nuh in opposition-held Talbisseh in central Syria.It was also quiet in the largely rebel-held northwestern province of Idlib, where air strikes killed 13 people on Monday.”We were able to sleep well. Last night was amazing,” Nayef Mustafa told AFP from the town of Salqin.And in the government-held western portion of Aleppo, where residents regularly come under rocket fire from the rebel-held east, Habib Badr was enjoying the morning silence.”My house is near the Razi hospital and I’m used to hearing ambulance sirens every two or three hours. I haven’t heard anything this morning,” he told AFP.”I hope that I don’t hear any ambulances for a long, long time.”The deal is the latest in a succession of attempts to end the fighting in Syria.It calls for the truce to be renewed every 48 hours, and immediate humanitarian aid access, particularly to civilians living under siege.By midday Tuesday, there were no signs that aid had begun moving into those areas, including eastern Aleppo which is surrounded by government troops.But Russia said its troops had been deployed on the key Castello Road running from the Turkish border into Aleppo that is to become a demilitarised zone under the deal.- Opposition sceptical -If the ceasefire holds for a week, Moscow and Washington will then begin an unprecedented joint campaign to target jihadist forces, including IS and former Al-Qaeda affiliate Fateh al-Sham Front.Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov said UN special envoy Staffan de Mistura could invite government and opposition representatives to new peace talks “at the very beginning of October”.Kerry said a return to UN-mediated peace talks was the only “realistic and possible solution”.But there is still deep scepticism about whether the truce will last, with the opposition yet to officially sign on and demanding guarantees on how the ceasefire will be monitored.A joint statement issued by nearly two dozen rebel groups late on Monday said they could not support the ceasefire while civilian suffering continued.The rebels said they had “no choice… but to pursue the fight against the regime and its allies until the last bullet and the last fighter.” A crucial part of the deal calls on non-jihadist rebels to break ranks with Fateh al-Sham ahead of joint US-Russian operations against the group.But many Islamist rebel groups cooperate closely with Fateh al-Sham, and the biggest of them — the powerful Ahrar al-Sham group — has criticised the terms of the Russian-US deal.Damascus and its allies have backed the truce, with the Syrian army saying it would observe a seven-day “freeze” on military operations in the country. But on Monday, Assad said the regime remained “determined to recover every area from the terrorists”.bur-sah/mm