Syria fighting halts as cessation begins

Women walk on rubble in al-Shadadi town, in Hasaka provinceFighting appeared to stop across most areas of western Syria on Saturday after a landmark “cessation of hostilities” came into effect under a U.S.-Russian plan which warring sides in the five-year conflict have accepted.

The temporary halt in fighting marked the first time world powers have been able to negotiate a pause in Syria’s civil war and the United Nations hopes it can lead to a new round of talks to end the conflict.

A monitoring group and the United Nations reported only isolated fire in western Syria after the temporary ceasefire began at midnight on Saturday (1700 ET Friday).

“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,” said U.N. Syria envoy Staffan de Mistura.

Damascus and its ally Russia, as well as a range of insurgent groups fighting against them, have said they will commit to the plan.

The temporary truce does not apply to Islamic State and al Qaeda affiliate the Nusra Front, and the Syrian government and Moscow have said they will not halt combat against those militants. Other rebels seen as moderates by the West say they fear this will be used to justify attacks on them.

The United Nations unanimously demanded late on Friday that all parties to the conflict comply with the terms of the plan and end a war that has killed more than 250,000 people and driven 11 million from their homes. Mistura said he intends to resume talks on March 7, provided the halt in fighting largely holds.

The United States warned this week that it might be hard to hold Syria together as a country if the conflict does not stop.

Fighting raged across much of western Syria on Friday right up until the agreement came into effect, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

Shortly after midnight, there was calm in many parts of the country, it said.

“In Damascus and its countryside… for the first time in years, calm prevails,” Observatory director Rami Abdulrahman said.

“In Latakia, calm, and at the Hmeimim air base there is no plane activity,” he said in reference to the Latakia base where Russia’s warplanes operate.

In the northern city of Aleppo some gunfire had been heard shortly after midnight, and there were some blasts heard in northern Homs province, but it was not clear what had caused them, he said.

On Friday at least 40 government soldiers and allied fighters, and 18 insurgents were killed in battles and air strikes in Latakia province, the Observatory reported.

Also in the hours before the halt, six people died in an air raid in western Aleppo province, it said. Near Damascus, dozens of air raids hit besieged Daraya suburb. Rescue workers said at least five people were killed in Douma northeast of the capital. (Courtesy Reuters)


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