Syria ceasefire holds despite militant breaches
The all-Syria ceasefire, brokered by Russia and Turkey, is holding across the country despite initial instances of violations by foreign-backed militants, a monitoring group and militant sources say.
According to the so-called Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, clashes took place on Friday after militants took over a position in Hama province.
Government forces responded to the attack, shelling militant positions in Atshan and Skeik villages in Idlib province, which borders Hama, the London-based group said.
The clashes came less than two hours after the ceasefire took effect on Friday but a member of the Jaish al-Nasr militant group was quoted as saying that the skirmishes had stopped.
The ceasefire agreement excludes the most brutal of terror outfits operating in Syria, namely Daesh and Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, formerly known as al-Nusra Front.
The truce was mediated by Moscow and Ankara, which were respectively representing the Syrian government and the anti-Damascus militants.
Ankara has stepped up its cooperation with Moscow recently, prompting speculation that Turkey might be moving away from the US which is supporting Kurdish militants in Syria.
Russia and Turkey successfully brokered a similar accord earlier this month following the defeat of militants, which ended years of fighting in Aleppo and facilitated the evacuation of residents from the city.
Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Muallem on Thursday hailed the ceasefire deal as a “real opportunity” for a political settlement of the deadly crisis, which has been plaguing his country since early 2011.
“It is the duty of the factions (militant groups) who have signed it to distance themselves from, and declare that they are not linked to the Nusra Front or Daesh,” he said in an interview broadcast live on state TV.
Turkey, a true partner?
Muallem, meanwhile, said that the Syrian government believes in Russia as a guarantor of the ceasefire agreement, but mistrusts the Turkish role.
“We believe in Russian guarantees in ceasefire agreement, because Russia is our ally in fighting terrorism, but we do not trust Turkey,” Muallem said.
Turkey has illegally deployed troops inside Syria to purportedly fight Kurdish and Daesh militants, prompting strong condemnation by Damascus. Ankara has long been viewed as a transit route for Takfiri militants, including Daesh terrorists, into neighboring Syria.
Muallem further said he had been contacted earlier by his Iranian counterpart Mohammad Javad Zarif, who had confirmed to him that “Iran is standing by Syria’s side.”
“Iran is part of the ceasefire agreement, and we are on the same front,” he added.