Peace envoy says Damascus, most rebels agree to truce


Peace envoy Lakhdar Brahimi said Wednesday that Syria and “most” rebel chiefs have agreed to a truce during this week’s Muslim holiday, boosting hopes of a significant breakthrough in the 19-month conflict.
Syria itself said its army leadership was studying the proposal for a truce in a conflict that is claiming more than 100 lives a day and that a final decision would be announced on Thursday.
The Free Syrian Army (FSA), the main rebel group seeking to overthrow President Bashar al-Assad’s regime, for its part said it would cease fire during the four-day Eid al-Adha holiday starting Friday provided government forces stop shooting first.
“The Syrian government has agreed to a ceasefire” during Eid al-Adha, Brahimi told reporters in Cairo, adding that “most” rebel leaders contacted said they also would observe the truce.
“If we succeed with this modest initiative, a longer ceasefire can be built” that would allow the launch of a political process, Brahimi said after talks with Arab League chief Nabil al-Arabi.
The UN-Arab League peace envoy said the Syrian government would officially announce its acceptance by Thursday. The Syrian foreign ministry said in a statement, “The army command is studying the cessation of military operations during the Eid holiday, and the final decision will be taken tomorrow (Thursday).” The rebels, however, remained sceptical that regime troops would indeed observe a truce.
“The FSA will stop firing if the regime stops,” said FSA military council chief General Mustafa al-Sheikh, speaking to AFP by telephone from Turkey.
But, he said, the “regime has lied many times before. It is impossible that the regime will implement the truce, even if it says it will.
A truce if it were to hold would be the most important breakthrough since the conflict spread from localised clashes to engulf the entire country in a full-fledged civil war which the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said on Wednesday has now claimed more than 35,000 lives. Brahimi’s predecessor as international peace envoy, Kofi Annan, announced a short-lived ceasefire in April, two months after being appointed.
Brahimi’s dramatic announcement came as violence raged, with at least 48 killed across the country on Wednesday, according to the Britain-based Observatory. The monitoring group said 16 civilians were killed in Douma in Damascus province and eight soldiers in a car bombing in the northern province of Raqa bordering Turkey.
And warplanes raided the rebel-held town of Maaret al-Numan, the Observatory said, even as Brahimi prepared to brief the UN Security Council on his ceasefire efforts.
The two sides are battling over Maaret al-Numan for control of a key military base and a stretch of the highway linking Damascus and Aleppo, the country’s second city.
The Observatory said the Free Syrian Army and Al-Nusra Front, an Islamist group, were leading the assault on Wadi Deif base near the town in the northwestern province of Idlib.
Five members of the same family, including a woman and a child, were killed in an air strike on Maaret Shamirin village in the province, according to the Britain-based Observatory. It said air raids further south targeted Irbin and Harasta, in the Damascus suburbs, where four rebels were killed in clashes, and added that several districts of Aleppo also came under air strikes.