Syria hostilities stop under ceasefire

  • 27/02/2016
United Nations Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura speaks to the media during a news conference after briefing the Security Council in Geneva, Switzerland (Reuters)
United Nations Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura speaks to the media during a news conference after briefing the Security Council in Geneva, Switzerland (Reuters)

By John Davison

A cessation of hostilities in Syria has gone into effect under a ceasefire warring sides in the five-year conflict have said they would commit to.

A monitoring group said that across most of western Syria fighting appeared to have stopped, with isolated incidents of fire in some areas.

Damascus and its ally, Russia, as well insurgent groups fighting against them, had said they would commit to the plan.

The truce does not apply to Islamic State and al-Qaida affiliate the Nusra Front, and the Syrian government and Moscow have said they will not halt combat against those militants.

The United Nations unanimously demanded late on Friday (local time) that all parties to the conflict comply with the terms of the plan.

Fighting had raged across much of western Syria right up to when the agreement went into effect, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

Shortly after midnight on Friday, there was calm in many parts of the country, it said.

"In Damascus and its countryside... for the first time in years, calm prevails," Observatory director Rami Abdulrahman said.

"In Latakia, calm, and at the Hmeimim air base there is no plane activity," he said in reference to the Latakia base where Russia's warplanes operate from.

In the northern city of Aleppo some gunfire had been heard shortly after midnight, and there were some blasts heard in northern Homs province, but it was not clear what had caused them, he said.

On Friday at least 40 government soldiers and allied fighters, and 18 insurgents were killed in battles and air strikes in Latakia province, the Observatory reported.

Also in the hours before the halt, six people died in an air raid in western Aleppo province, it said. Near Damascus, dozens of air raids hit besieged Daraya suburb. Rescue workers said at least five people were killed in Douma northeast of the capital.

Nusra Front on Friday called for an escalation in fighting, urging insurgents to intensify their attacks in a call that added to the dangers facing the fragile agreement.

Under the measure, which has not been signed by the Syrian warring parties themselves and is less binding than a formal ceasefire, the government and its enemies were expected to stop shooting so aid could reach civilians and peace talks begin.

Aid has been delivered to some besieged areas of the country this year in a series of localised agreements, but the United Nations demands unhindered access to all Syrians in need of help.

Friday's UN resolution urged the government and opposition to resume talks, renewing a call to end a war in which most regional and world powers are involved.

UN Syria envoy Staffan de Mistura said he intended to reconvene talks on March 7 provided the halt in fighting largely held.

AAP