October 21, 2016

Syrian military ‘declares 72-hour truce across Syria’

Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad attends prayers on the first day of the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Fitr, in al-Safa Mosque in Homs

The Syrian military declared a three-day ceasefire across the whole of the country on Wednesday and although fighting and air attacks continued, US Secretary of State John Kerry expressed hope a more significant truce could be achieved.

The truce is the first to be declared country-wide since the one brokered by foreign powers in February to facilitate talks to end the five-year-old civil war. This has mostly unravelled.

Wednesday’s ceasefire covers the three-day Eid al-Fitr holiday celebrated by Muslims to mark the end of the fasting month of Ramadan. There was no indication that it had been agreed with any of the myriad groups opposing the government.

The military high command said in a statement that “a regime of calm will be implemented across all territory of the Syrian Arab Republic for a period of 72 hours from 1am on July 6 until 2400 on July 8, 2016”.

The Syrian government uses the term “regime of calm” to denote a temporary ceasefire.

The rebel group Jaish al Islam said in a statement that, despite the announced truce, government and allied forces had attacked the town of Maydaa, in the Eastern Ghouta area east of Damascus. Maydaa has been held by Jaish al Islam, which is part of the High Negotiations Committee (HNC) representing the opposition at international peace talks.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said on Wednesday that government and allied forces had taken almost complete control of Maydaa and that fighting continued. Syrian state media said the army and its allies had taken ground from “terrorists” in the area. The Syrian government describes all groups fighting against it as terrorists.

The Britain-based Observatory, which monitors the Syrian conflict, also said there had been rebel and government shelling in areas around the northern Syrian city of Aleppo, and air strikes had hit towns in the northern Aleppo countryside on Wednesday.

Syrian state media also reported army operations against Islamic State militants across the country on Wednesday.

US Secretary of State John Kerry welcomed the announcement, adding that discussions were under way to try to extend the truce.

“We are trying very hard to grow these current discussions into a longer-lasting … enforceable, accountable cessation of hostilities that could change the dynamics on the ground,” Kerry told a news conference in Tbilisi, Georgia.

The open-ended February “cessation of hostilities” truce, which was intended to facilitate talks to end the five-year-old civil war, was agreed with many opposition militias, but did not include the al-Qaeda affiliated Nusra Front or Islamic State.

But the truce has mostly collapsed since then and the Syrian army and the Russian military, which supports Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, have announced a number of temporary local truces in areas of intense fighting, for example in the city of Aleppo or near the capital Damascus.

But air strikes and fighting have often continued in spite of the declarations.

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