Assad vows to do his part so shaky Syria ceasefire holds

Friday 26/02/2016
Wide amnesty for those who agree to disarm

DAMASCUS - Syrian President Bashar al-Assad pledged on Tuesday to do his part to guarantee the success of a shaky ceasefire that was largely holding into its fourth day.

Assad said the truce provided a "glimmer of hope" for Syria, where more than 270,000 people have been killed since the complex conflict erupted.

World powers have thrown their weight behind the landmark truce as a way to bring an end to Syria's conflict, which began in 2011 with anti-government protests.

Residents of the besieged rebel town of Daraya, southwest of Damascus, took advantage of Tuesday's quiet to resume their tradition of daily demonstrations.

Activists said dozens of young men marched through the devastated town chanting against the regime and carrying colourful signs reading "Daraya will not kneel!"

The government and the main body opposed to it, the High Negotiations Committee (HNC), have traded accusations over breaches of the truce since it began on Saturday.

"We will do our part so that the whole thing works," Assad told German public broadcaster ARD, referring to the cessation of hostilities reached by the United States and Russia.

"We have refrained ourselves from retaliating in order to give (a) chance for the agreement to survive. That's what we can do, but at the end everything has a limit. It depends on the other side."

The president also offered a wide amnesty to opposition fighters if they agree to disarm.

"The most important thing for me, legally and constitutionally... (is) that you're not allowed, as a citizen, to hold machineguns and hurt people or properties," he said.

"This is the only thing that we ask. We don't ask for anything. As I said, we give them full amnesty."

The much-lauded ceasefire has brought relative calm to swathes of territory in Syria's north, south, and around the capital.

It does not include areas where the Islamic State group and Al-Qaeda's affiliate in Syria, Al-Nusra Front, are present.

Regime forces clashed with ISIS jihadists in the oil-rich eastern province of Deir Ezzor on Tuesday, said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

Limited clashes also took place in Aleppo city and others rocked the town of Harbnafsa in the central Hama province, said the monitor.

The complex patchwork of territorial control has made the truce difficult to monitor, particularly in areas where Al-Nusra Front has formed close ties with non-jihadist rebel groups.

Civilians in central Homs province say their towns are not being targeted as often, but violence has not stopped.

"There are much fewer airplanes, which is very good, at the same time, we can't move around completely comfortably," said Hasaan Abu Nuh, an activist in the flashpoint town of Talbisseh.

"There's still artillery, mortar fire, and we hear the airplanes flying above us," he said by telephone.

"People still have the same routine -- they still go down to the shelters when they hear the planes."

Despite backing opposing sides of Syria's war, Moscow and Washington drafted the UN-backed cessations of hostilities deal and co-chair the international task force evaluating its implementation.

Late Monday, the HNC alleged two violations by regime forces in Daraa, southern Syria, and two by Russian warplanes in the central province of Hama.

The White House said it was not surprised by reports the ceasefire had been breached, but indicated it was too early to call it a failure.

On Tuesday, Russia said it had recorded 15 ceasefire violations in the past 24 hours across Syria, mostly in Damascus, Aleppo, Homs, and Latakia along the coast.

Its armed forces accused ISIS and Al-Nusra of increasing their attacks across the country in a bid "to derail the reconciliation process".

Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov called for the closure of Syria's border with Turkey to prevent supplies reaching "terrorist" groups.

Tens of thousands of displaced Syrians amassed along that border last month, fleeing an intense government offensive backed by Russian strikes.

"A very special task is to cut the terrorists' supply from the outside. For this purpose it is important to close the Syrian-Turkish border, since across this border those gangs receive arms, including with humanitarian convoys," the Russian minister said, according to an official transcript in English of his remarks.