Syria ceasefire holds despite dozens of regime infringements

Syria ceasefire holds despite dozens of regime infringements
Civilians in Syria are hoping that regime air raids and offensives won't break out, after reports emerged of 28 ceasefire violations on Wednesday amid signs of a regime troop build-up.
3 min read
03 March, 2016
The ceasefire is holding but there are fears that fighting might resume [AFP]

Syria's ceasefire has continued to hold despite 28 cases of violations by regime and Russian forces on Wednesday.

There is also signs of a regime build-up in western Aleppo, with activists fearing an offensive on rebel territories could be in the making.

Dozens of ceasefire breaches have been reported over the past five days since a truce between Damascus and rebels was announced.

No large-scale offensives or mass air raids have been reported since Saturday, but on Wednesday regime and Russian bombing, shelling and napalm attacks claimed the lives of 13 civilians.

All the attacks took place in areas outside Islamic State group and Nusra Front control, so technically subject to the truce.

Rebel-held areas of Aleppo, Damascus, Daraa, Idlib, Homs, Hamah and Latakia all witnessed bombing or shelling on Wednesday, according to the Syrian Coalition.

Russian war planes launched three air raids and rocket attacks on opposition territories in Aleppo. There were also reports of clashes around the northern city after regime and Hizballah forces attempted to capture territory from the opposition.

In the south, a number of leaders of the Free Syrian Army-aligned Syrian Revolutionaries Front were killed in a car bomb attack on their headquarters, although it was unclear who was responsible for the killings.

Death toll down

However, civilian deaths are markedly down since the truce was announced on Saturday, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported.

Although 24 civilians have been killed in the last five days, including five women and six children, there are hopes that the ceasefire might hold and reduce the sufferring on Syrians.

"Compare that number to Friday, the day before the truce came into effect: 63 civilians, including 11 children, died on that day alone," Rami Abdel Rahman, head of the observatory told AFP.

The daily death toll among civilians in February was 38, he added.

To stop this scale of death from re-emerging, activists have said that better communication with international observers monitoring the ceasefire is needed.

The current system relies on Syrians calling US and Russian-run hotlines to report infringements to the ceasefire. 

But this method came under fire after it was reported that the US state department operators did not speak sufficient Arabic to communicate with the callers.

Fight against IS

Many believe that the truce is part of a longer-term agreement between the US and Russia for fighting in the country to be focused on IS and Nusra, al-Qaeda's Syrian affiliate.

So far, fighting has continued against IS militants in northern and eastern Syria, mostly led by Kurdish forces.

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Clashes  intensified around Hassakeh province with the Kurdish YPG capturing territory from IS.

Turkey also said that it has ceased its shelling of Kurdish positions over the border in Syria this week. Ankara added that Turkish forces have launched artillery attacks on IS forces inside Syria.

Regime build-up

However, Kurdish forces operating in northern Syria also attacked non-IS rebel positions in Aleppo on Wednesday, part of ongoing efforts by the group to expand its territories usually at the expense of Syrian rebels. 

This includes the contested district of Sheikh Maqsoud, while Kurdish militants allegedly shelled civilian vehicles on Castillo Road which runs through it.

In West Aleppo, Kurdish forces handed over a number of villages to the Syria regime "without a fight" opposition media reported.

Regime troops also appear to be massing in the area. Many suspect that the regime might be preparing for an offensive on a rebel base in Qabtan al-Jabal, opposition site al-Souriya, reported.

Other regime violations have also been reported. Activists told opposition media that the last road into a rebel-held district of Homs city was cut off by regime forces over the past two days, effectively besieging al-Waer once again.

Demonstrations in the district have taken place due to Damascus' continued refusal to hand over almost 2,000 residents arrested by the regime in 2011. 

This was a key part of a truce agreed by rebels in the area and the Syrian government last year, which would handover the neighbourhood to the regime.

Now eyes are on whether the Syrian regime will respect its wider ceasefire with the rebels, or if this too will be broken as it has so many times before.