By Bassem Mroue
Warplanes have unleashed airstrikes against rebel-held positions in the suburbs of the Syrian capital and near the northern city of Aleppo, hours before a ceasefire brokered by the United States and Russia was to go into effect.
Less than an hour before the truce was set to begin, the 15-member Security Council unanimously endorsed the agreement, and the UN special envoy for Syria announced peace talks would resume on March 7 if the "cessations of hostilities" holds.
Staffan de Mistura told the Security Council via video conference from Geneva that he hoped the ceasefire would provide a chance for humanitarian aid to reach those battered by Syria's brutal war and allow for a political solution.
White House spokesman Josh Earnest said the US didn't expect to be able to judge the ceasefire's success or failure within the first days or even weeks.
"We do anticipate we're going to encounter some speed bumps along the way," Earnest said. "There will be violations."
The last barrages came as the main Syrian opposition and rebel umbrella group said dozens of factions - 97 groups in all - have agreed to abide by the truce.
But Nusra Front leader Abu Mohammed al-Golani rejected the ceasefire, saying that his al-Qaeda militants will continue fighting and calling on Syrians not to trust the West and America.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the warplanes in Friday's strikes were believed to be Russian. The Kremlin did not comment on the latest developments but denied allegations that the Russian air force bombed civilian positions east of Damascus the previous day.
The rebel-held Damascus suburb of Douma was hit 40 times on Friday, the Observatory said, along with other areas east of the capital, killing at least eight people, including three women and four children.
The Observatory also reported dozens of airstrikes north of the northern city of Aleppo, which has been under attack by Syrian troops and pro-government militias for weeks.
Stephane Dujarric, the spokesman for the UN secretary-general, said the increase of military activity was "tragic but unfortunately not surprising."
With hours to go before the ceasefire, Dujarric added, "The only thing that is required is for people to take their fingers off the trigger."