Syria's truce largely holding for second day | Reuters - Firstpost
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Syria's truce largely holding for second day | Reuters

Updated: Feb 28, 2016 23:46 IST

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BEIRUT/ GENEVA Fighting in Syria appeared to have mostly stopped on Sunday, the second day of a U.S.-Russian deal on a cessation of hostilities which seemed to be holding despite accusations of violations and air strikes in Aleppo province.

The agreement is the first of its kind to be attempted in four years and, if it holds, would be the most successful truce of the war.

Under the accord accepted by President Bashar al-Assad's government and many of his foes, fighting should cease so aid can reach civilians and talks can open to end a war that has killed more than 250,000 people and made 11 million homeless.

The head of the Russian coordination centre in Syria, Sergei Kuralenko, said the plan was holding "in general" but said there had been nine violations of the truce in the past 24 hours.

Insurgents and the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which monitors the conflict, said war planes struck at least six towns and villages in west and north Aleppo and a village in the central Hama province.

The Saudi-backed opposition group accused Russia of carrying out the strikes and said it would complain to the United Nations and countries backing the peace process but said it remained committed to the truce.

"The decision is to remain quiet, not to do anything, and I believe they will stick to the truce," said Syria's opposition spokesman Salim al-Muslat. "Yesterday was the first day people can really go out and walk in the streets."

A Syrian military source said on Saturday the army was not violating the truce agreement. Russia's defence ministry declined to comment.

Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir also accused Russia and the Syrian government air force of violating the truce and said Riyadh was discussing the issue with international powers. He said there would be a "plan B" if it became clear that the Syrian government and its allies were not serious about the truce, but gave no details.

"I believe that abiding by the truce would be an important indicator of the seriousness to reach a peaceful solution to the Syrian crisis that would include setting up a transitional authority and the transfer of power from Bashar (Assad) to this council," he said during a joint news conference with visiting Danish Foreign Minister Kristian Jensen in Riyadh.

"There is no place for Bashar in Syria."

The deal, which is less binding than a formal ceasefire and was not directly signed by the Syrian warring sides, does not cover assaults on militants from Islamic State or the Nusra Front, an al Qaeda affiliate that called for an escalation of attacks on Friday.

Moscow and Damascus say they will continue to fight them. Other rebels say they fear this stance may be used to justify attacks against them too.

Muslat, who is spokesman for the opposition's High Negotiating Committee (HNC), said it was waiting for answers about how the cessation of hostilities in Syria was being monitored, particularly since there was no map with a common understanding of the location of various fighting groups.

"This really worries us because we don't know how to deal with any violations and what are the areas that should not be targeted," he said, adding it was unclear how violations would be punished.


On Saturday, Russia said it would suspend all flights over Syria for one day to ensure no targets covered by the truce were hit by mistake.

But insurgents said on Sunday several people were wounded when Russian war planes struck several villages and towns in Aleppo province.

The Observatory's head Rami Abdulrahman said some of the towns which were attacked, including Daret Azza, were controlled by Nusra Front and other Islamist groups.

Other attacks hit the villages and towns of Qabtan al-Jabal, Andan, Hreitan, Kfar Hamra and Ma'aret al-Arteek, the Observatory said, all in the west of the province where insurgents from the Free Syrian Army have operated.

"We are not sure if this is considered a breach to the truce because it is not clear if these towns are included in the truce," Abdulrahman said.

Syria's state news agency accused "terrorist groups" of shelling dozens of mortars into rural areas of the country's coastal Latakia province and caused a number of casualties. It said that the shelling came from hills close to the Turkish border "where terrorists mostly from Nusra Front deploy".

A Syrian rebel group denied the state media reports. Fadi Ahmad, spokesman for the First Coastal Division, an FSA group operating in the rural Latakia area, said rebel groups were committed to the truce.

He said helicopters had dropped six barrel bombs and fired dozens of rockets in the area on Sunday, and the Nusra Front had no presence in the area targeted by government forces.

Abdulrahman said a number of civilians were also killed in the air strikes in Aleppo province and other areas. He did not have a figure.

Videos sent by a rebel commander to Reuters shows a strike in another town, Harbnafseh, at 6.30am (0430 GMT)and another at 07:00am (0500 GMT) according to the voice in the video. The footage shows plumes of smoke rising into the sky.

Rebels also accused government forces of trying to take the village of Harbnafseh in Hama province which is a frontline with loyalist Alawite villages and seizing it will pave the way for the government to advance in Hama countryside.

"Our fighters are repelling the attack... the regime has been trying to bring it under its control," said Lieutenant Colonel Abu Hamed, head of the military council of Jaish al Tahrir, coalition under the umbrella of the Free Syrian Army which has backed the truce.

Russia's coordination centre in Syria received from the United States a list of 69 armed opposition groups which agree with the terms of the truce, Interfax news agency reported on Sunday.

The centre said the groups on the list included ones which had confirmed their agreement via the HNC as well as ones which had told the U.S. directly that they agreed with the truce.

Russia had itself received declarations of agreement from 17 armed groups from Syria's "moderate opposition", the centre said in a statement cited by Interfax.

The truce is the culmination of new diplomatic efforts that reflect a battlefield dramatically changed since Russia joined the war in September with air strikes to prop up Assad. Moscow's intervention effectively destroyed the hope his enemies have maintained for five years -- encouraged by Arab and Western states -- to topple him by force.

(Reporting by Mariam Karouny, Tom Perry in Beirut Tom Miles in Geneva, Alexander Winning in Moscow, Suleiman al-Khalidi in Amman; Writing by Mariam Karouny; editing by Anna Willard)

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