Syria: Truce Holding Through Second Day — With Exceptions

Calm during the first day of the truce in Syria

In Syria, most of the fighting had stopped by Sunday morning, the second day of the truce brokered by the United States and Russia. The current truce in Syria is the first attempt at such an agreement in the last four years, since the civil war began.

Despite several reported breaches, the truce has brought quiet to the streets of Syria for the first time in years. Children ventured out to play in ruined streets, and the relative calm was noticeable throughout Syria, even as the fight against Islamic State (IS) continued. Loris Atwah, a 65-year-old resident of Damascus, spoke to the Associated Press.

“Today we woke up and it was calm, stable. And even in the street… it was complete calm.”

The embattled Syrian government under President Bashar al-Assad agreed to the truce in order to facilitate aid workers and supplies to reach civilian populations. Some 13 million people in Syria are in need of humanitarian aid.

The truce itself is a less formal agreement than a ceasefire, and it was not directly signed by the various sides of the ongoing fighting in Syria. It does cover the Syrian army, along with some of the armed opposition groups through the Higher Negotiations Committee (HNC), an umbrella group based in Saudi Arabia. Up to 97 of the opposition groups covered under the HNC have signed on to the truce agreement. However, there are over 160 armed opposition groups active in Syria today. ISIS and the Nusra Front, the local al-Qaeda affiliate, and their locations, are not party to the truce in Syria, with the Nusra Front recently calling for increased attacks. To further complicate the situation, many of the HNC groups fight alongside IS and Nusra Front in some regions of Syria, blurring the lines between what is covered and what is not by the truce agreement.

The deal involves ceasing hostilities for a limited period of two weeks. It was hoped that limiting the focus of the Syrian truce agreement would help to promote compliance. However, the truce agreement itself allows for retaliation in the event of any breaches.

The Syrian conflict has now raged for nearly four years, leaving more than 250,000 dead, a million wounded, and has driven millions of people out of their homes and their country. The Syrian civil war has created the world’s worst refugee crisis since the Second World War.

Despite today’s relative calm in Syria, most international observers don’t hold out much hope for the new truce agreement.

Many conflicting reports have come in from Syria since the start of the truce at midnight on Friday (Damascus time,) in part because there are no impartial observers on the ground. Russia announced it would suspend flights over Syria on Saturday to avoid shelling non-ISIS targets. However, insurgent groups have reported shelling from Russian planes in Aleppo.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a British-backed organization, claims there were at least seven incidents involving war planes. The attacks occurred largely in north and west Aleppo, including several towns that are said to be under Islamist control. Rami Abdulrahman, head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, noted the confusion.

“We do not know which planes carried out the strikes and also we are not sure if this is considered a breach to the truce because it is not clear if these towns are included in the truce.”

According to Sergei Kurylenko, head of the Russian coordination center in Syria, there had been nine incidents representing violation of the truce during the first 24-hour period on Saturday.

Opposition parties in Syria have claimed as many as 15 violations of the truce on Saturday alone, pointing the finger at Syrian government forces, along with the Russians. Sources in the Syrian military have claimed that the army has not violated the truce agreement. HNC spokesperson Salim al-Muslat commented the following to Reuters.

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

HNC plans to take their complaints about the alleged Russian air strikes to the United Nations. In the meantime, the people of Syria are taking advantage of the calm.

[Photo by Hassan Ammar/AP]