Syria: Fragile truce holding despite numerous clashes

Syria: Fragile truce holding despite numerous clashes

A nationwide ceasefire in Syria brokered by Russia and Turkey was in effect early on Friday and was largely holding, paving the way for the awaited peace talks despite reports of clashes in various regions.

Many ceasefire agreements accompanied by peace talks meetings were organized to help find a solution to the crisis, but Assad regime and Iranian forces breached every ceasefire and hindered every peace talks meeting without any pressure moves or real steps from the western powers.

The recent months especially witnessed numerous meetings between the US and Russian foreign ministers to find a solution to the Syria crisis, end the violence and start new peace talks but they led to nothing.

in the end, Russia said it has a new plan for Syria peace talks which can be achieved with powers that have a real effect on the Syrian ground.

Russia and Iran both back Assad, but Turkey, a NATO member, has long made clear it would prefer him to step down. Ankara has however sought to fix its relation with Russia in recent months after the coup attempt as the west abandoned its relations with Turkey.

The three countries said they were ready to help broker a Syria peace deal after the three countries held talks in Moscow on Tuesday and adopted a new declaration.

This new relation included Turkey’s moderation of its rhetoric on Assad, changing the goal of its military operation in Syria, decreasing its support for the armed Syrian opposition, and playing a major role in bringing the Syrian opposition to one table with Assad through the newly made agreement as the new agreement shows.

Moscow has said they would take place in Kazakhstan.

Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Thursday that an agreement has been reached on a countrywide ceasefire for Syria, with Russia and Turkey to act as guarantors.

“The agreements reached are, no doubt, very fragile and they demand special attention and follow-up in order to keep them and develop them. Nevertheless, this is a notable result of our joint work, efforts by the defence and foreign ministries, our partners in the regions,” Putin said.

“Now we need to do everything for these agreements to work, so that negotiators would come to Astana and would begin to work on real peace process. I call on the Syrian government, armed opposition, all countries involved to support these agreements.”

Russia’s defence ministry said the insurgent groups which signed the agreement were: Failaq al-Sham, Ahrar al-Sham, Jaish al-Islam, Suqor al-Sham, Jaish al-Muhajidin, Jaish Idlib and al-Jabha al-Shamia.

The truce takes effect

The truce, which is the third announced this year, came into effect at midnight on Thursday and follows the evacuation of Aleppo and the city’s surrender to forces loyal to Bashar al-Assad. It covers all areas of the country except those under Islamic State control.

Despite violations blamed on both sides in parts of the country, there were no reported civilian casualties by Friday night and diplomats were hopeful that the fragile truce would take root.

Asaad Hanna, a political officer in the Free Syrian Army, said violence had reduced on Friday but had not stopped. “We cannot be optimistic about someone like the Russians who used to kill us for six years … they are not angels,” Hanna said. “But we are happy because we are reducing the violence and working to find a solution for the current situation.”

“We consider the ceasefire an important step to resolve the Syrian conflict,” said Ibrahim Kalin, the spokesman for the Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. “Along with the Russian Federation, we support this arrangement as a guarantor.”

A US state department spokesman described news of the ceasefire as a “positive development” that the US hoped would be “implemented fully and respected by all parties”.

“Any effort that stops the violence, saves lives, and creates the conditions for renewed and productive political negotiations would be welcome,” the spokesman said.

Russian officials were quick to talk up the ceasefire as vindication of Moscow’s strategy, who started their air campaign in Syria in 2015 to support  Assad regime and prevent the fall of its rule.

“Russia has again proved its leading role in international peacekeeping activities,” said Sergei Zheleznyak, a Russian MP and member of the parliament’s international affairs committee. He called the agreement “a major diplomatic, military and political success”.

Numerous breaches of the truce

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group said rebels had violated the truce deal and taken over a position in Hama province, while a rebel group also accused the government of shelling areas in Atshan and Skeik villages in Idlib province, which borders Hama.

“Fierce clashes took place between the two sides pushing regime forces to withdraw from a hill near Maharda,” Rami Abdel Rahman, head of the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, told AFP news agency.

“Small rebel groups and armed loyalists are seeking to destroy the truce because it puts an end to their presence,” he said.

The observatoy also reported an aerial attack on the rebel-held Wadi Barada Valley near Damascus.

Mazen al-Shami, an opposition activist from the Damascus suburb of Douma, said minor clashes nearby left one rebel fighter wounded.

Ahmad al-Masalmeh, an activist in the southern Deraa province, said government forces had opened fire on rebel-held areas.

“There are some sporadic clashes around Damascus in Souq Wadi Barada and Deraa and in Aleppo, but activists operating on the ground say calm still prevails, which is a significant development,” a journalist said.

The Syrian crisis began as a peaceful demonstration against the injustice in Syria. Assad regime used to fire power and violence against the civilians and led to armed resistance. 450.000 Syrians lost their lives in the past five years according to UN estimates, and more than 12 million have lost their homes.