Syrian military agrees ceasefire as rebel forces make strategic gains


THE SYRIAN military yesterday announced it would observe a ceasefire from 6am today until Monday as rebel forces made strategic advances in Aleppo, the country’s current battleground.

The army said it would “cease military operations” during the four-day Muslim Eid al-Adha holiday as proposed by UN-Arab League envoy Lakhdar Brahimi.

The armed forces will “reserve the right to respond to attacks, bombings, and attempts by “terrorist groups to reinforce or resupply, or efforts to infiltrate fighters from neighbouring countries”.

Gen Mustafa al-Sheikh, head of the command council of the Free Syrian Army, told al-Jazeera television that local units will agree to the truce if regime forces cease fire. He was not optimistic about the prospects of a longer-term truce and dialogue between the regime and rebels, who, he said, refused negotiations. The extremist Ansar al-Islam and Jabha al-Nusra groups rejected the ceasefire.

Activists in Aleppo reported that under a deal with the Kurdish militia, rebel units had moved into the northern Kurdish Ashrafiyeh district, site of the city’s intelligence headquarters. Fighting was said to have raged in the mainly Christian quarter of Seryan to the south. Insurgents also claim to have taken the southwestern Salaheddin and Suleiman al-Halabi districts, which have changed hands during the past three months of heavy fighting.

Although clashes took place throughout the city a source in Damascus said Syrianair had flights to Aleppo carrying passengers going home for the Eid.

UN deputy chief Jan Eliasson warned there were no guarantees the ceasefire would succeed, but urged both sides to observe it. “We very much hope that this first step towards the reduction of violence and the beginning of the political process will be taken because we see very great dangers [for] the Syrian people and the future of Syria, and of course for the security and stability of the region.”

He said a ceasefire would have an important symbolic meaning due to the “silencing of the guns” and the creation of an environment in which a political process was possible. The security council has unanimously adopted a resolution calling for a temporary ceasefire and pressing the government to be the first to lay down arms. Head of UN peacekeeping Hervé Ladsous has contingency plans for the deployment of 3,000 blue helmets if the ceasefire holds.