Syria’s opposition says will stick to truce despite violations

Syrian news agency reports terrorist group attack on coastal Latakia province

An elderly man holds beads as he sits at a street in the rebel-held neighbourhood of Tishreen, after a ceasefire that went into effect in Damascus. Photograph: Mohammed Badra/EPA

An elderly man holds beads as he sits at a street in the rebel-held neighbourhood of Tishreen, after a ceasefire that went into effect in Damascus. Photograph: Mohammed Badra/EPA

 

Syria’s opposition will stick to the cessation of hostilities despite what they said were 15 violations by Syrian government forces on Saturday and more breaches on Sunday, a spokesman for the High Negotiating Committee (HNC) said.

Guns mostly fell silent in Syria and Russian air raids in support of President Bashar al-Assad stopped on Saturday, the first day of a US-Russian accord that the United Nations has described as the best hope for ending five years of civil war.

“The decision is to remain quiet, not to do anything, and I believe they will stick to the truce,” Salim al-Muslat from the HNC said. “Yesterday was the first day people can really go out and walk in the streets.”

Mr Muslat said the HNC would complain to the United Nations and countries backing the peace process about alleged Russian air strikes around the city of Aleppo, in an area with no fighters from the Islamic State or Nusra Front groups, excluded from the truce.

He also said there had been an attack by Hezbollah in the town of Zabadani, without giving details. Syrian forces had used barrel bombs and rockets on Saturday, he said.

Meanwhile, Syria’s state news agency said on Sunday that “terrorist groups” had fired dozens of mortars into rural areas of the country’s coastal Latakia province. It quoted a local source saying that the shelling caused a number of casualties. It said that the shelling came from hills close to the Turkish border “where terrorists mostly from Nusra Front deploy”.

On Saturday a Syrian military source denied the army was violating the truce after insurgents reported operations against them in several areas.

The opposition is waiting for answers about how the cessation of hostilities in Syria, which came into effect at midnight on Friday, is being monitored, he said, and it was unclear how truce violations were to be punished. There was also no map with a common understanding of where the various fighting groups are, he said.

“Until this moment we did not really get any answers,” he said. “This really worries us because we don’t know how to deal with any violations and what are the areas that should not be targeted.”

He said the United States should inform the HNC, and should have involved them before backing a UN resolution on the cessation of hostilities.

Mr Muslat also blamed the United States for not insisting the HNC was mentioned specifically in the resolution, which paves the way for a round of peace talks in Geneva on March 7.

Israel welcomed the cessation of hostilities in neighbouring Syria but hinted on Sunday it could still launch attacks there if it saw a threat.

Israeli officials had earlier been skeptical about the prospects of a truce, given Syria’s sectarian rifts and the exclusion of jihadi rebels. But prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu sounded cautiously upbeat in pubic remarks on Sunday.

“We welcome the efforts to achieve a stable, long-term and real ceasefire in Syria. Anything that stops the terrible slaughter there is important, first and foremost from a humanitarian standpoint,” he told his cabinet.

“But at the same time it is important that it be clear: Any arrangement in Syria has to include a cessation of Iranian belligerence toward Israel from Syrian territory,” he added.

While formally neutral on the civil war, Israel has launched a number of air strikes in Syria to foil suspected arms transfers to Lebanon’s Iran-backed Hezbollah guerrillas, who are helping Assad.

Israel has also said it has returned fire when shot at across the Golan Heights frontier, where it worries Hezbollah is active.

“We will not agree to the supply of advanced weaponry to Hezbollah, from Syria to Lebanon. We will not agree to the creation of a second terrorist front on the Golan,” Mr Netanyahu said. “These are the red lines that we set out and they remain the red lines of the State of Israel.”

Reuters