Sunday 26 March 2017

Kerry hopeful for 72-hour Syrian truce but violence continues

Syrian children walk amidst destruction during an activity organised by a charity group in Jobar, a rebel-held district near Damascus Photo: AMER ALMOHIBANY/AFP/Getty Images
Syrian children walk amidst destruction during an activity organised by a charity group in Jobar, a rebel-held district near Damascus Photo: AMER ALMOHIBANY/AFP/Getty Images

Lesley Wroughton

US Secretary of State John Kerry said yesterday he hoped a 72-hour truce in Syria was "a harbinger" that more ambitious and long-lasting similar deals could be struck.

"We very much welcome the Syrian army declaration of 72 hours of quiet," Kerry told a news conference in Tbilisi, 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," he said.

The Syrian military declared a 72-hour "regime of calm" covering all of Syria from 1am yesterday (10pm Irish time on Tuesday), a military source told Reuters, although fighting and air attacks have been reported since then.

The truce is to expire at midnight tomorrow local time, according to state TV.

This is the first time Syrian authorities have declared a blanket truce for the whole country.

It was unclear if militant bodies, such as Isil, are excluded from the ceasefire. The government of Bashar al-Assad considers all armed opposition to be terrorists. The last truce - a high-profile "cessation of hostilities" brokered by the US and Russia - was declared on February 27 and excluded militant groups such as Isil and al-Qa'ida's branch in Syria, the Nusra Front.

For weeks, it sharply reduced violence in much of the country. However, the exclusion of areas under the militants' control opened the door for disagreements over who else was considered a terrorist group and would therefore be excluded from the ceasefire.

The February ceasefire finally collapsed with a government offensive in the northern province of Aleppo, where a coalition of armed opposition groups has strongholds and cooperates with the Nusra Front.

Yesterday, a powerful armed rebel group, which is in control of areas in the suburbs of the capital, Damascus, said there was no ceasefire on the ground.

Yasser al-Tayeb, a spokesman for the Army of Islam group, said clashes with pro-government forces have not let up.

Pro-government forces are pressing on with their ground offensive on Mayda, in the eastern Ghouta suburbs of Damascus, which they launched on Tuesday, Mr al-Tayeb said.

Irish Independent

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