The Sunday News
BEIRUT — Fighting between Syrian rebel and government forces eased yesterday as a Russian-led effort to shore up a ceasefire took effect, although battles continued on an important frontline near Hama, a rebel commander and war monitor said.
The deal to create “de-escalation” zones in the major areas of conflict in western Syria took effect at midnight. The initiative was proposed by Russia, President Bashar al-Assad’s most powerful ally, with the support of Turkey, which backs the opposition.
Iran, Assad’s other major ally, also backed it.
Political and armed opposition groups have rejected the proposal, saying Russia has been unwilling or unable to get Assad and his Iranian-backed militia allies to respect past ceasefires. The Syrian government said it backed the proposal but said it would continue to fight what it called terrorist groups across the country.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said there had been a reduction in fighting across Syria since the deal came into force, but warned it was too early to say whether it would last.
“The reduction in violence must be clear and lasting,” Observatory Director Rami Abdulrahman told Reuters.
The rebel commander said the general level of violence was reduced, but added: “Regime attempts (to advance) in the Hama countryside continue.”
With the help of Russia and Iranian-backed militias, the Syrian government has gained the military upper hand in the six-year conflict. The wide array of rebel groups include some supported by Turkey, the United States and Gulf monarchies.