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Assad vows to 'do part' on holding Syria ceasefire

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad says the truce provides a 'glimmer of hope' for Syria [Getty]

Date of publication: 2 March, 2016

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Syrian President Bashar al-Assad says that rebels who lay down their arms can expect a 'full amnesty,' despite claims that his forces have repeatedly breached the ceasfire.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has pledged to do his part to guarantee the success of a shaky ceasefire that was largely holding on its fourth day.

World powers have thrown their weight behind the landmark truce as a way to bring an end to Syria's conflict, which began in 2011 with anti-government protests.

The United Nations said the next round of peace talks would resume in Geneva on March 9, announcing a two-day postponement "to allow adequate time to address logistical and practical matters".

Assad said the truce provided a "glimmer of hope" for Syria, where more than 270,000 people have been killed since the complex conflict erupted. 

"We will do our part so that the whole thing works," Assad told German public broadcaster ARD, referring to the cessation of hostilities reached by the United States and Russia.

"We have refrained ourselves from retaliating in order to give (a) chance for the agreement to survive. That's what we can do, but at the end everything has a limit. It depends on the other side."

Assad also offered an amnesty to opposition fighters if they agree to disarm. 

"The most important thing for me, legally and constitutionally... (is) that you're not allowed, as a citizen, to hold machineguns and hurt people or properties," he said.

"This is the only thing that we ask. We don't ask for anything. As I said, we give them full amnesty."

Hizballah chief Hassan Nasrallah, whose militia members are fighting in support of Assad, also welcomed the ceasefire.

Assad's statement follows on the heels of opposition claims that the ceasefire was violated 26 times during its first three days. 

The National Coalition of Syrian Revolution and Opposition Forces also accused Russian and Syrian regime forces of 143 breaches of the truce since it started on Saturday 27th of February 2016. 

We have refrained ourselves from retaliating in order to give (a) chance for the agreement to survive. That's what we can do, but at the end everything has a limit. It depends on the other side
- Syrian President Bashar al-Assad

'The revolution continues'

 

Timeline of Syrian ceasefire

Saturday, February 27
- The unprecedented cessation of hostilities begins at 0000 local time (2200 GMT on Friday).

- Russia says it will suspend for one day its airstrikes in Syria to support the agreement and avoid "bombing mistakes".

- The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and militants report a tense calm in the central regions around Homs and Hama, in Damascus and around Aleppo in the north. No airstrikes are signalled against rebel regions.

- One exception is near Abbasid Square in Damascus, where about a dozen shells hit an area disputed for the past three years by government troops and rebels.

- A Geneva-based international working group issues a positive evaluation of the situation. Although a few incidents are noted, the UN estimates they have not torpedoed the ceasefire.

Sunday, February 28
- Aircraft attack six locations in Aleppo province and one in Hama, the Syrian Observatory says. The director of a pro-rebel press agency says the aircraft were Russian.

- Russian Lieutenant General Sergei Kuralenko accuses rebels of violating the ceasefire nine times, but adds: "On the whole, the ceasefire regime in Syria is being implemented."

- The Saudi-backed High Negotiations Committee, which represents most of the opposition groups, says the ceasefire has been broken two dozen times by Syria's government and its allies, leaving 29 dead.

- Saudi Arabia directly accuses President Bashar al-Assad's regime and Russia of "ceasefire violations".

- The UN says it will distribute supplies to an extra 154,000 people in besieged areas over the next five days.

Monday, February 29
- The Observatory says that the death toll in areas outside extremist control has fallen sharply since the ceasefire began, with 40 people killed on the first two days in areas where IS is not present, against 144 on Friday.

- Ten airstrikes hit part of the eastern town of Deir Ezzor controlled by IS.

- Turkey shells IS positions in northern Aleppo province in coordination with the US-led international anti-extremist coalition.

- The UN human rights chief warns that thousands could die from starvation because of sieges that have affected more than 480,000 people. The Red Crescent begins delivering UN-provided hygiene supplies to the rebel-held town of Moadamiyet al-Sham southwest of Damascus.

- The international task force was to meet in Geneva to shore up the ceasefire, after UN chief Ban Ki-moon tells media that "by and large the cessation of hostilities is holding even though we have experienced some incidents".

The ceasefire has brought relative calm to swathes of territory in Syria's north, south, and around the capital, where civilians were back on the streets demonstrating against the regime.

In the besieged rebel town of Daraya, near Damascus, dozens of young men chanted against the government and carried signs reading "Daraya will not kneel!"

"Of course we're going to seize this opportunity (to protest) because the rest of the time there were constant barrel bombs and shelling," said activist Shadi Matar.

The truce does not include areas where the Islamic State group and al-Qaeda's affiliate in Syria, al-Nusra Front, are present.

Regime forces clashed on Tuesday with IS extremists in the oil-rich eastern province of Deir az-Zour, said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

Clashes also took place in Aleppo city and in the town of Harbnafsa in central Hama province, said the monitor.

The complex patchwork of territorial control has made the truce difficult to monitor, particularly in areas where al-Nusra Front has formed close ties with non-extremist rebel groups.

'Much fewer planes'

Civilians in central Homs province say their towns are not being targeted as often, but violence has not stopped.

"There are much fewer airplanes, which is very good... (But) there's still artillery, mortar fire, and we hear the planes flying above us," said Hasaan Abu Nuh, an activist in the flashpoint town of Talbisseh.

"People still have the same routine - they still go down to the shelters when they hear the planes."

Despite backing opposing sides of Syria's war, Moscow and Washington drafted the UN-backed cessations of hostilities deal and co-chair the international task force evaluating its implementation.

Washington said on Tuesday the ceasefire appeared to be holding, although State Department spokesman John Kirby noted that "nobody's doing any victory dances" yet.

"Over the last 24 hours, we have not been apprised of any claims of any additional violations of any significance," Kirby said, while noting there had been reports of violations in past days.

The opposition High Negotiations Committee however said there had been at least three violations by regime forces on Tuesday and 17 the previous day.

And Russia said on Tuesday it had recorded 15 truce violations in the past 24 hours.

Tens of thousands of displaced Syrians amassed along that border last month, fleeing an intense government offensive backed by Russian strikes.

Speaking in Washington, top NATO General Philip Breedlove said Russia and Syria had turned the refugee crisis into a "weapon" against the West.

"Together, Russia and the Assad regime are deliberately weaponising migration in an attempt to overwhelm European structures and break European resolve," he told US lawmakers.

More than 270,000 people have been killed since the complex conflict erupted [Emad Hajjaj/The New Arab]

 

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