The largest gathering of Syria's mainstream opposition was dispatching on Friday a small delegation to…
A ceasefire brokered by the United States and Russia went into effect across Syria on Saturday, marking the biggest international push to reduce violence in the country’s devastating conflict. However, the Islamic State group and al-Qaida’s branch in Syria, the Nusra Front, were excluded.
The ceasefire aims to bring representatives of the Syrian government and the opposition back to the negotiating table in Geneva for talks on a political transition. The U.N.’s envoy, Staffan de Mistura, announced that peace talks would resume on March 7 if the cessation of hostilities “largely holds.”
If it does, it would be the first time international negotiations have brought any degree of quiet in Syria’s five-year civil war. But success requires adherence by multiple armed factions and the truce is made more fragile because it allows fighting to continue against the Islamic State group and Nusra Front, which could easily re-ignite broader warfare.
The Syrian government and the opposition, including nearly 100 rebel groups, have said they will abide by the ceasefire despite serious scepticism about chances for success.
Speaking to reporters in Geneva after the truce took hold at midnight, de Mistura said initial reports indicated that within minutes both Damascus and the nearby rebel-held town of Daraya suddenly “had calmed down.” He said there was a report of one “incident” that his team was investigating but did not give details.
Opposition activists on the ground also reported early adherence to the truce.
An Associated Press crew in Damascus said the sounds of explosions stopped three minutes before midnight. An Aleppo-based opposition media collective, Aleppo24, said Russian warplanes left Aleppo skies at 12:19 a.m.
There were also some reports of violations, which could not be independently confirmed, but they appeared to be relatively limited.
The Local Coordination Committees, an umbrella opposition activist group, reported that Syrian troops violated the truce in Daraa.
Less than an hour before the truce was set to begin, the 15-member Security Council unanimously endorsed the agreement worked out between the United States and Russia.
De Mistura told the Security Council via video conference from Geneva that he hoped the ceasefire would provide a chance for humanitarian aid to reach those battered by Syria’s brutal war and allow for a political solution.
White House spokesman Josh Earnest said the U.S. didn’t expect to be able to judge the ceasefire’s success or failure within the first days or even weeks.
“We do anticipate we’re going to encounter some speed bumps along the way,” Mr. Earnest said. “There will be violations.”
On Friday, hours before the ceasefire came into effect, warplanes unleashed airstrikes against rebel-held positions in the suburbs of the Syrian capital and near the northern city of Aleppo.
The last barrages came as the main Syrian opposition and rebel umbrella group said dozens of factions 97 groups in all had agreed to abide by the truce. The High Negotiations Committee, or HNC, said a military committee has been formed to follow up on adherence.