Syria: 48-hour Ceasefire in Daraa as July Peace Talks Announced

Syria: 48-hour Ceasefire in Daraa as July Peace Talks Announced
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Published June 18th, 2017 - 14:00 GMT via SyndiGate.info

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Smoke rises from buildings following a reported air strike on a rebel-held area in the southern Syrian city of Daraa, on June 14, 2017. (Mohamad Abazeed/AFP)
Smoke rises from buildings following a reported air strike on a rebel-held area in the southern Syrian city of Daraa, on June 14, 2017. (Mohamad Abazeed/AFP)

The Syrian regime army on Saturday declared a 48-hour ceasefire in the southern city of Daraa as two separate peace talk initiatives scheduled for July take shape.

The army's general command said in a statement that the ceasefire went into effect at noon "in support of local reconciliation efforts".

The announcement was made on the same day that the United Nations said it wanted to begin a new round of peace talks between factions in the conflict on July 10 in Geneva.

Russia also said it hoped to hold talks in Kazakhstan's capital Astana on July 4-5.

The office of United Nations special mediator for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, said in a statement that he wants to convene a seventh round of peace talks in July followed by further talks in August and September, Reuters reported.

The UN has mediated peace talks between the Syrian regime and rebel delegations for several years to little avail. A parallel peace process involving Russia, Iran and rebel supporter Turkey agreed in May to establish four safe zones across Syria where flights would be banned and aid deliveries ensured. 

Daraa, popularly known as the cradle of the revolution, is among the areas included in a plan for "de-escalation zones". Under the deals, rebels who surrender are generally offered safe passage to opposition-held territory elsewhere in the country.

The opposition has criticised the deals as a "starve or surrender" tactic, saying they are forced into the deals after intense bombardments and devastating sieges.

Daraa has witnessed heavy clashes in recent weeks with civilians caught in fighting and regime bombardments. Rebels control around 60 percent of the city, and the province is one of the last remaining bastions of opposition forces in the country.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based monitor of the war, reported a cautious calm in the hours after the truce was announced.

There was no immediate official confirmation that the opposition agreed to the truce but the quiet in the aftermath of the announcement suggested hostilities had halted on both sides.

The US State Department said "we welcome any initiative to reduce tensions and violence in southern Syria" and urged Damascus "to live up to its own stated commitment during this ceasefire initiative".

"The opposition should similarly halt attacks to allow the ceasefire to endure, and hopefully be extended," the statement added.

Daraa saw some of the earliest demonstrations against the Assad family's four-decade rule in 2011.

A violent crackdown by Bashar al-Assad's regime and the rise of an armed insurgency eventually plunged the country into civil war.

The six-year conflict has displaced half of Syria's population and claimed some 400,000 lives.

Copyright @ 2017 The New Arab.

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