Ameer Alhalbi, AFP | Syrian men carrying babies make their way through the rubble following a reported air strike on Aleppo, on September 11, 2016, as airstrikes intensified ahead of a truce deal due to take effect at sunset on September 12.
The truce, brokered by Russia and the US, allows for an initial 48-hour ceasefire that would set off a seven-day period to allow humanitarian aid into besieged areas of war-torn Syria.
If the ceasefire holds, Moscow and Washington are set to begin an unprecedented joint targeting of jihadist forces including the Islamic State (IS) group and the former al Qaeda affiliate Fateh al-Sham Front.
But just hours ahead of the scheduled ceasefire start, opposition groups were still seeking implementation guarantees before endorsing the deal.
“We want to know what the guarantees are,” Salem al-Muslet, spokesman for the High Negotiations Council (HNC), which groups Syrian political and military opposition factions, told AFP on Monday.
While the Free Syrian Army has said it would “cooperate positively” with the ceasefire, the hardline Islamist but influential Ahrar al-Sham group has rejected the deal.
‘We need the ceasefire to hold’
Humanitarian agencies have voiced cautious optimism for the deal, which could see aid deliveries to the country’s many inaccessible areas, particularly the divided and devastated city of Aleppo, where violence peaked over the weekend.
“I think anything that can bring some respite to the violence and that can really have the consent of all parties is important, and we’re hopeful that it can work,” Krista Armstrong, spokeswoman for the Geneva-based ICRC (International Committee of the Red Cross) told FRANCE 24. “First of all, we need security guarantees from all parties and we need the ceasefire to hold so we can get into different areas – not just for 48 hours, but to assess needs and then come back with the basics like food, as well as equipment and tools to repair water and sanitation facilities.”
After a five-year war that has claimed more than 290,000 lives and displaced half the country’s population, the international community has been focused on easing the humanitarian situation in Syria, as well as agreeing to a political transition deal that would help end the conflict.
Assad prays in Daraya, then vows to recover terrain
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s government has officially approved the agreement, and Hezbollah – the Lebanese Shiite militia that has intervened on his behalf – has also supported the deal.
But for the deal to hold, Russia will also have to convince Assad to stop the bombardment of rebel-held areas.
The embattled Syrian president made a rare public appearance Monday at the Eid al-Adha prayers in the town of Daraya outside Damascus. State media showed Assad joining the prayers at the Saad Bin Moaz mosque in Daraya, which was previously a rebel stronghold.
The mufti, or cleric, presiding over the prayers hailed Daraya as an example for Syria, which has been ravaged by conflict since 2011.
“Daraya is living proof for all Syrians that the only option available to you is reconciliation and abandoning fighting,” said Adnan al-Afiyuni, mufti for Damascus province.
But during a tour around Daraya following the prayers, Assad once again vowed to crack down on what he calls terrorist groups.
“The Syrian state is determined to recover every area from the terrorists, and to rebuild,” Syrian state media quoted Assad as saying.
Hopes for ceasefire slim
Over the weekend, violence intensified as Syrian government forces carried out heavy air strikes in several rebel areas ahead of the ceasefire, killing about 100 people.
Russian warplanes were also in action in the provinces of Idlib and Aleppo, according to Syrian activists.
With millions of Syrians marking Eid al-Adha in refugee camps across the region, in exile or under tough conditions back home, hopes for the latest ceasefire deal are slim.
In government-held Damascus, resident Taher Ibrahim told the AFP that he did not expect any lasting respite from the fighting.
“Nobody among the Syrian population accepts this agreement… [The opposition] are all the same and none of them will commit to this truce,” he said.
(FRANCE 24 with AFP)
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