A “fragile” nationwide ceasefire deal between the Syrian government and main opposition groups went into effect at midnight local time (2200 UTC) on Friday.
Although the truce held in most parts of the country, some fighting broke out near a Christian town in central Hama province, with Islamist factions fighting government forces, monitors and a rebel official said. The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said there had been isolated reports of gunfire further south less than two hours after the truce began.
Opposition activist Mazen al-Shami told The Associated Press that the situation became “very calm” half an hour before midnight in the suburbs around Damascus.
Russia, Turkey and Iran are set to act as guarantors for the deal that Russian President Vladimir Putin announced earlier on Thursday. He said the two sides had expressed a readiness to start peace talks when signing the truce deal, which had been brokered by Turkey and Russia.
Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said the ceasefire would include about 60,000 rebel fighters. The Syrian National Coalition, a main opposition coalition backed by the West, has welcomed the deal and called on all rebel fighters to abide by the truce.
The truce excludes the militant “Islamic State” (IS) group and the formerly al-Qaeda-linked Fatah al-Sham Front, the Syrian army said in a statement.
“The agreements reached are, of course, fragile, need a special attention and involvement… But after all, this is a notable result of our joint work, efforts by the defense and foreign ministries, our partners in the regions,” Putin said.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan described the agreement as a “historic opportunity” to end the Syrian conflict, which has killed more than 310,000 people and forced millions from their homes.
Putin said that if the truce holds, it will be followed by peace talks next month in Kazakhstan between the Syrian government and opposition groups.
US shut out of negotiations
Friday’s truce is the third nationwide ceasefire deal agreed in Syria this year, and comes one week after troops aligned with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad regained full control of Aleppo from rebel fighters.
The previous two ceasefires, negotiated by the US and Russia, held for only brief periods and allowed for humanitarian aid deliveries or for people to flee. The current deal does not involve the US or the United Nations.
Despite not being included in negotiations for the new deal, the US State Department called the announcement of the truce “a positive development.”
Russia and Turkey have supported opposing sides in the Syrian conflict, but have ramped up efforts to seek a peaceful resolution to the devastating civil war in recent months.
Deep divisions over the role of Assad in any political transition still remain between Turkey, the West and the Arab Gulf states on one side, and Russia and Iran on the other.
rs/cmk (AP, AFP, dpa, Reuters)