A ceasefire across Syria appeared to be holding on Friday as its brokers, Russia and Turkey, sought support at the UN security council for the plan it hopes will trump failed peace proposals and end the six-year conflict.
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, despite all other attempts failing.
Russia, which has invested much political stock in ending the fighting after bombing the opposition relentlessly for the past 15 months, said it would ask the security council on Saturday to endorse a resolution backing its bilateral pact with Turkey – which makes aid access to besieged areas conditional on all protagonists downing weapons.
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.
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.”
The fall of Syria’s industrial capital, the last major city in which the rebels had a presence, was a seminal moment in the conflict, which allowed the Syrian leader to claim ascendancy on the battlefield and Russia and Turkey to take the initiative on the diplomatic front.
The momentum of the war has since tipped strongly in favour of Assad and his backers. The rebels have made no significant gains for much of the past year, their firepower blunted by Russia’s air campaign.
All previous attempts at establishing a ceasefire in Syria have failed within days of being announced. The US has been a key broker in several attempts, and partnered with Russia in the autumn to establish a joint control room to agree on targets.
Significant elements of the ceasefire plan were discussed earlier this year by the US secretary of state, John Kerry, and his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov. However, Washington’s means to end the conflict have steadily evaporated as Barack Obama’s administration grinds to an end and an alliance between Moscow and Ankara continues to grow.
Negotiations have effectively sidelined Washington, which has angered Turkey over its alliance with Kurdish groups in Syria in the war against Isis. Russian tensions with the US are at their most serious in years, after Obama imposed sanctions on senior Russian spy chiefs over allegations of cyber-attacks to influence the outcome of the US presidential election.
Iran has also thrown its weight behind the ceasefire, with the Iranian foreign minister, Javad Zarif, hailing the lull in fighting as a major achievement. Russia said on Thursday the deal had been signed by seven major opposition groups, although one of the most powerful, Ahrar al-Sham, denied having done so on Friday.
“Ahrar al-Sham has a number of reservations on the proposed agreement and the negotiations are linked to that, and we have therefore not signed it,” said Ahmad Qaran Ali, a spokesman for the group, raising doubts about the truce’s long-term viability.
Concerns were also raised by activists’ reports that, despite the downturn in fighting, the Wadi Barada valley, a rebel-held area north-west of Damascus that supplies nearly three-quarters of the capital’s water, had been targeted by artillery and helicopters throughout Thursday night and into Friday morning.
A central element in the momentum of the ceasefire plan has been the involvement of Turkey, which had been at odds with Moscow for the first six months of its intervention, but which is now on side with much of Russia’s agenda for Syria.
Key to the change has been Moscow’s stance towards the Syrian Kurds, whom both sides view as using the conflict to advance their territorial ambitions. In July, Vladimir Putin told the Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, that he supported Syria’s territorial integrity, meaning he did not support any attempt to use the war to advance a claim on sovereignty, which would directly impact Turkey’s four-decade war with Kurdish militants.
Erdoğan said at a press conference on Thursday night: “I would like to thank all those who supported the ceasefire process, especially my valuable friend Putin. Turkey will continue to make every effort to ensure the peace [and] stability of our region and Syria.”
Officials from all sides said they hoped the pact would hold in the run-up to negotiations next month in Astana, the capital of Kazakhstan, which could establish a path to peace.
Diplomats said that Russia has requested that the 15-member council vote on the resolution at 11am local time (4pm GMT) on Saturday. It is not clear how much support there is for the resolution. The text would be closely studied overnight, one Western diplomat said, speaking on condition of anonymity.