A cease-fire brokered by the United States and Russia went into effect across Syria today, marking the biggest international push to reduce violence in the country’s devastating conflict, but the Islamic State group and al-Qaida’s branch in Syria, the Nusra Front, were excluded.
The cease-fire 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 UN’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 cease-fire despite serious skepticism 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.
Mazen al-Shami, an activist near Damascus, said an opposition-held eastern suburb of the capital known as Eastern Ghouta was “quiet for the first time in years.” The Ghouta region, which includes the sprawling suburb of Douma, has been the scene of intense fighting during Syria’s conflict.
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 am (local time). There were also some reports of violations, which could not be independently confirmed, but they appeared to be relatively limited.
Opposition activist Mohammed al-Sibai, who is based in the central province of Homs, told the AP that the cease-fire was violated 15 minutes after it went into effect in the town of Talbiseh, which was being subjected to shelling by government artillery based around the town. However, he said things later quieted down.