DAMASCUS, Feb 27, (Agencies): Fighting subsided across much of Syria Saturday as the first major ceasefire of the devastating, five-year war appeared to broadly hold despite sporadic breaches in parts of the battlescarred country.
The truce, brokered by Washington and Moscow, is seen as a crucial step towards ending a conflict that has claimed 270,000 lives and displaced more than half the population.
Meanwhile, His Highness the Amir Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al- Sabah sent on Saturday two cables to US President Barack Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin.
In his cables, His Highness the Amir welcomed the UN Security Council’s Resolution 2268 endorsing the US-Russian joint statement on Cessation of Hostilities in Syria. His Highness the Amir appreciated both leaders’ efforts to adopt this joint statement, hailing it as a genuine step and a glimpse of hope for ceasing several years of hostilities in Syria which have so far claimed the lives of hundreds of thousands of Syrian people.
His Highness the Amir wished that this could lead to a political solution to the Syrian crisis in order to put an end to the tragic situation and humanitarian sufferings of the brotherly Syrian people inside and outside Syria, to fulfill their legitimate demands and to bring security and stability back to Syria.
His Highness the Amir also hoped that all involved parties would stick to the resolution so that the international community can focus on fighting and eradicating terrorism. The truce faces formidable challenges including the exclusion of the Islamic State (IS) jihadist group and al-Qaeda’s Syria affiliate Al-Nusra Front, which control large parts of the country.
“Honestly, I was surprised that the calm lasted through the night,” said Ammar al-Rai, a 22-year-old medical student in Damascus. “I think this is the fi rst time we’ve woken up without the sound of shelling.” UN envoy Staffan de Mistura said peace talks would resume on March 7 if the ceasefire prevails and more aid is delivered — a key sticking point in negotiations. A special international task force, cochaired by Moscow and Washington, was due to meet behind closed doors in Geneva on Saturday to monitor the truce.
De Mistura said it was important that any incidents are “quickly brought under control” and a military response should be the “last resort”. Russia, which has waged nearly five months of intense air strikes against rebels in support of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, said it had halted bombing in all areas covered by the truce. Moscow has vowed to keep striking IS, Al-Nusra and other “terrorist groups”, but said it would ground all its warplanes in the Syria campaign on the first day of the truce to avoid potential “mistakes”.
EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said the lull in fighting was “the first chance to put an end to violence on the ground and should not be missed”. “If it holds, it will create the conditions for full, sustained and unimpeded humanitarian access throughout Syria,” she added.
Among the limited ceasefire breaches, state media said “terrorist groups” fired a number of shells on Damascus but caused no casualties. Rebels also accused the government of intermittent “truce violations” in parts of the country. In Aleppo, Syria’s second city, two people were killed and four wounded when shells hit the majority-Kurdish neighbourhood of Sheikh Maqsud, ac-cording to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based monitor.
Syrian state media said one person was killed by sniper fire in the same district. Aleppo city is now almost completely encircled by pro-regime troops after a massive Russian-backed offensive that has caused tens of thousands to flee in recent weeks.