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Fragile ceasefire comes into effect in Syria

By Philip Issa

A US-Russian brokered ceasefire for Syria has come into effect, with monitoring groups and state media reporting clashes up until the final minutes and the most powerful rebel groups having yet to commit to the truce.

Syria's military announced at 7pm local time that it would abide by a ceasefire until Sunday at midnight, while maintaining its right to defend itself against any violations.

The ceasefire marks the latest attempt to end the five-year conflict, which has killed more than 250,000 people and driven some 11 million from their homes. The 2011 uprising against President Bashar Assad began with peaceful protests but escalated into a civil war following a brutal government crackdown and the rise of an armed insurgency. Russia and Western nations hope the truce can lead to the revival of peace talks between Assad's government and the rebels battling to overthrow him, and contribute to efforts to defeat the Islamic State group and other extremists in Syria.

Russia's deputy foreign minister Mikhail Bogdanov said peace talks between opposition groups and the government could resume as early as next month. Ahmad al-Masalmeh, an opposition activist in the contested city of Daraa, said calm had prevailed over the city since 4pm, but observers elsewhere reported fighting all the way up to and after the start of the ceasefire.

In Aleppo, the northern city that has emerged as the epicentre of the fighting, opposition media activist Mahmoud Raslan said government helicopters dropped crude barrel bombs on a contested neighbourhood, while a doctor reported heavy shelling along the Castello road, a key route to opposition-held areas.

The terms of the agreement permit government forces to target the al Qaida-linked Jabhat Fatah al-Sham for the first week of the ceasefire. It was unclear whether the group's positions were being targeted after the truce began.

Belfast Telegraph


From Belfast Telegraph