A countrywide ceasefire brokered by the United States and Russia has come into effect in Syria, the second attempt this year by Washington and Moscow to halt the five-year civil war.
- A seven-day “regime of calm” to be applied across Syria
- Rights group reports calmness on most frontlines
- Jihadists groups can still be targeted under deal
- Syrian opposition rebels fear they may still be hit
The Syrian army announced the truce at 7:00pm (local time), the moment it took effect, saying the seven-day “regime of calm” would be applied across Syria.
It reserved the right to respond with all forms of firepower to any violation by “armed groups”.
“Today from 1900 (local time) the cessation of hostilities is being resumed across all the territory of Syria,” senior Russian military official Sergei Rudskoi told a Moscow briefing, adding that Russia would “continue to carry out strikes against terrorist targets”.
Rebel groups fighting to topple President Bashar al-Assad issued a joint statement listing deep reservations with the agreement they described as unjust, echoing concerns outlined in a letter to the United States on Sunday.
While the statement did not explicitly back the ceasefire, rebel sources said the groups were abiding by it.
“Regarding a truce, a ceasefire, the delivery of aid, this is a moral question and there is no debate around this, we absolutely welcome this, but there are other articles around which there are reservations,” said Zakaria Malahifji of an Aleppo-based rebel faction.
As the night went on, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based monitoring group, reported Government air strikes and bombardment in Hama and Aleppo provinces, and shelling of rebel-held areas near Damascus, though it said the violations were not serious.
‘Aleppo is really hell’
Obstetrician and gynecologist Dr Farida Almouslem is one of the two remaining female doctors still working in Aleppo.
She says just years ago the neighbourhood was expanding and bursting with life, but that has now been replaced with destruction.
“It’s darkness, no electricity, no cars … no movement in the street,” she told Radio National.
“Between my house and the hospital, everything is destroyed.
“I see destroyed buildings, children are drying or have lost their legs … Aleppo is really hell.”
Dr Almouslem continues to work despite the rapid depletion of medical resources.
“We have some supplies, not big amounts … maybe one month of supplies left.”
The ceasefire might provide seven days of silence, but she says it does not solve what appears to be an intractable conflict.
“No-one can help us, everyone is fighting the poor people in Syria,” she said.
“We want you to know there is a big tragedy in Syria. Pray for us.”
A rebel in the Aleppo area said warplanes had opened fire with machine guns north of the city.
A Syrian military source meanwhile said armed groups in Aleppo had sniped on residential buildings, and fired three mortar bombs at a Government-held area on the city outskirts.
The bitterness of many rebels was evident in a social media post from the city of Homs, north of Damascus. One group published a video of a dead little boy, who they said was killed in the latest Government attack.
“This martyr died on the first day of the Eid,” the rebel said.
US Secretary of State John Kerry warned the ceasefire “may be last chance to save Syria” and said early reports suggested there had been some reduction in violence.
He told reporters at the State Department that it was too early to draw a definitive conclusion about how effective the truce would be, and that there would no doubt be some reports of violations “here and there”.
The agreement’s initial aims include allowing humanitarian access and joint US-Russian targeting of jihadist groups, which are not covered by the agreement.
Russia’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement that aid to the besieged city of Aleppo would start immediately.