By Lisa Barrington
BEIRUT The Syrian army said it would suspend combat operations in the southern city of Deraa for 48 hours from Saturday, as mediators announced two separate attempts to convene new peace talks early next month.The Syrian army general command said a ceasefire at 12 noon (0900 GMT) on Saturday was being implemented to support "reconciliation efforts", according to a statement carried by state news agency SANA.The local ceasefire announcement came on the same day as the United Nations said it wanted to start a fresh round of peace talks between Syrian factions on July 10 in Geneva, and Moscow said it hoped to hold talks in Kazakhstan's capital Astana on July 4-5. Since a resumption of peace negotiations last year, there have been multiple rounds brokered by the United Nations in Geneva between representatives of Syrian rebels and the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, resulting in scant progress.Another track of talks brokered by Russia - a key Assad ally - has also been happening in Astana since January.In an emailed statement the office of United Nations special mediator for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, said he wished to convene a seventh round of Geneva talks in July and further rounds in August and September.PAUSE IN HOSTILITIES
Over more than six years the Syrian conflict has killed hundreds of thousands of people and driven more than 11 million from their homes.In May, Iran, Russia and Turkey brokered a deal in Astana to create four de-escalation zones in Syria.Violence levels have vastly reduced in those proposed de-escalation areas, but fighting has continued in major frontline areas, including in Deraa city.
The Syrian army and Iran-backed militia forces have escalated attacks against a rebel-held part of Deraa city in recent weeks, in a possible prelude to a large-scale campaign to gain full control. De Mistura said earlier this week a new round of talks would depend on the progress made in setting up the de-escalation zones. A war monitor said the level of violence in Deraa had fallen three hours after Saturday's ceasefire was due to take effect, but rebels said the city was still being bombarded. A rebel commander in Deraa told Reuters hostilities had not stopped.
"We have not heard of any such talk and the regime is still attacking us with the same intensity," the commander said at 3:30 PM (1230 GMT). The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights war monitor said there had been a decline in the pace of fighting and shelling in the city for the three hours since the ceasefire came into force. But the Britain-based monitor said some shells and air strikes had continued to hit parts of the city. "There are breaches and we are distrustful of the regime's intentions in abiding by the ceasefire," Major Issam al Rayes, spokesman for the Southern Front grouping of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) rebels, told Reuters."The regimes forces have stopped their military operations after big losses in equipment and men since the start of their campaign over a month ago ... after the failure of repeated attempts to advance," he said.The United States and Russia have been holding talks on creating a separate "de-escalation zone" in southwestern Syria which would include Deraa province, on the border with Jordan, and Quneitra, which borders the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights. (Reporting by Lisa Barrington in Beirut and Suleiman al-Khalidi in Amman; Additional reporting by Andrey Ostroukh in Moscow, Shadia Nasralla in Vienna and Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva; Editing by Andrew Bolton)
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Updated Date: Jun 17, 2017 21:23:14 IST