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Syria ceasefire appears to be holding, despite reports of sporadic strikes

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By Sarah Taylor  with REUTERS
Syria ceasefire appears to be holding, despite reports of sporadic strikes

A ceasefire the United Nations has described as the best hope for peace in five years of civil war in Syria appears to be holding.

“Let’s pray that this works because frankly this is the best opportunity we can imagine the Syrian people has had for the last five years in order to see something better and hopefully something related to peace,” UN Syria envoy, Staffan de Mistura told a news conference in Geneva.

Russian air strikes have stopped for now and guns have reportedly fallen mostly silent.

Reports of violations

However, amateur videos and reports from rebels and opponents of the government suggest air strikes are continuing in some areas.

Rebels claim there have been ‘occasional government violations’ to the truce, which one commander warned could end in the collapse of the agreement brokered between the US and Russia.

Reports of mortar fire, rockets and machine guns being fired in Hama province came from Jaish al-Nasr, a group affiliated to the Free Syrian Army (FSA), which is also backing the ceasefire. The head of the branch’s media office, Mohamed Rasheed told Reuters news agency:
“Compared to the previous days it is nothing, but we consider that they broke the truce.”

Warplanes are said to be ‘constantly present’ in the sky over the province.

Videos posted by activists appear to back up the reports of strikes on Hama. Others purport to show air raids over Homs, Aleppo and the capital, Damascus.

Alwiyat Seif al Sham, a group also connected with the FSA, also alleges that rural areas west of the Damascus have been targeted. It claims two of its fighters have been killed and four more wounded in shelling by government tanks.

A source in the Syrian military has denied the army is violating the truce.

State media says the self-proclaimed Islamic State group is to blame for several deadly attacks, but reports the violence is greatly reduced overall.

Allowing aid through

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and many of his opponents agreed to the deal and now the aim is to allow aid through to civilians, 11 million of whom are homeless as a result of the fighting.

It is also hoped the cessation of hostilities will enable the resumption of stalled peace talks. De Mistura has declared his intention of starting the talks on March 7, if the ceasefire holds.

Russia to continue strikes on Islamist militants

Russia, an ally of Assad, said it would stop all flights over Syria for the first day of the truce to ensure no wrong targets were mistakenly hit.

Following that, Moscow said it would continue air raids on areas that are not covered by the ceasefire agreement and are controlled by Islamist militants.