Syria army 'to observe ceasefire' over Eid al-Adha

 
Rebel fighters in Aleppo Fierce fighting has continued in Aleppo, where rebels were reported to have made gains

Syria's military says it will adhere to a four-day ceasefire to begin on Friday for the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha.

The truce will begin at 0600 (0400GMT), reported Syrian TV, adding the army would retaliate against rebel attacks.

The truce was proposed by UN and Arab League envoy Lakhdar Brahimi, who hopes it will lead to a peace process.

The news came as rebels said they had advanced into several central areas in Aleppo, Syria's largest city and a key battleground in recent months.

Scepticism

Mr Brahimi has travelled across the Middle East over the past two weeks to promote his plan, and on Wednesday won the support of the UN Security Council.

SYRIA CEASEFIRE ATTEMPTS

  • Arab League: Observers deployed in late December to oversee compliance with a peace plan that included an end to violence, the withdrawal of troops from the streets and the release of political prisoners. But the monitoring mission was suspended after little more than a month as fighting continued.
  • Kofi Annan: Six-point plan for Syria included the withdrawal of troops and heavy weapons from urban areas, and an open-ended ceasefire that was meant to take effect on 12 April and lead to peace talks. But neither side fully adhered to the plan and violence continued to escalate.
  • Lakhdar Brahimi: New UN-Arab League envoy toured the Middle East in October, seeking support for a ceasefire over the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha, which starts on 26 October. The ceasefire, backed by the UN Security Council, is designed to kick-start political reconciliation.

He also said most opposition groups would back the truce, though some rebels have expressed scepticism about the chances of a ceasefire working.

On Thursday, a statement from the Syrian armed forces carried by state media said: "Military operations will cease across the entire Syrian territory as of 06:00 (03:00GMT) on 26 October until 29 October.

"Syrian armed forces will, however, reserve the right to reply to terrorists attacks, attempts of armed groups to reinforce or resupply, or attempts to infiltrate from neighbouring countries."

Qassem Saadeddine, a spokesman for the joint command of the Free Syrian Army, the main armed rebel group, said his fighters would back the truce.

"But we will not allow the regime to reinforce its posts," he told Reuters news agency.

'War crimes'

Start Quote

Civil wars have a trajectory: anger and energy at the beginning, mounting bloodshed and exhaustion at the end as the losses mount ”

End Quote Paul Wood BBC Middle East correspondent

Previous attempts at ceasefires in Syria have collapsed, and the violence has continued to escalate.

The US welcomed the ceasefire, and UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said he hoped it would lead to political negotiations.

The uprising against President Bashar al-Assad's government started in March 2011.

Activists say more than 35,000 people have been killed since then, while the UN estimates that at least 20,000 have died.

Analysis

The apparent withdrawal of Syrian forces from key Christian and Kurdish neighbourhoods in Aleppo may be a sign that the government is coming to accept that it cannot hold the centre of the city. It is not, however, a fatal blow to its hold on Aleppo. It may even be a tactical retreat, potentially drawing rebel fighters into a trap. But it may be a concession that supply lines to its forces in the centre of Aleppo have increasingly been cut off by the rebels.

That would leave Syrian President Bashar al-Assad with a dilemma. His government's tactic in recent months has been to bomb and shell areas held by the rebels - with military helicopters and fighter jets being used. This firepower far exceeds what the rebels possess, for now.

But if the government now uses such force against the areas of Ashrafiyeh and al-Seryan, it would be a risky strategy as they contain mainly Christians and Kurds - who have not yet thrown in their lot with the rebels. The alternative, though, might mean giving up on Aleppo altogether - a defeat the government would have deemed unthinkable six months ago.

In Aleppo on Thursday, eyewitnesses and activists said government forces had moved away from military posts in the Christian district of al-Seryan and the neighbouring Kurdish area of Ashrafiyeh.

Rebel fighters had reportedly moved in, although there were also reports of continuing fighting.

"The centre of the city is right now in the hands of the Free Syrian Army," an activist going by the name of Marwan told the BBC World Service.

He said the rebels had placed snipers on rooftops to try to prevent government troops retaking the area.

A rebel spokesman was quoted as saying opposition fighters had also taken the south-western neighbourhoods of Salah al-Din and Suleiman a-Halabi.

Meanwhile in Geneva, an expanded team of UN human rights investigators said it had sought a meeting with Mr Assad.

Carla del Ponte, a former UN prosecutor who led the case against former Yugoslav leader Slobodan Milosevic and recently joined the Syria commission, said she saw parallels with her earlier work.

"The similarity of both is that we are handling the same crimes: crimes against humanity and war crimes, for sure," she said.

"My main task will be to continue the inquiry in the direction of determining the high-ranking political and military authorities responsible for these crimes."

 

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