Saturday, February 27

Syrian ceasefire: fragile but holding so far - AP, Reuters updates this hour

February 27 at 12:14 PM EST
The Latest: UN envoy says Syria ceasefire is "reassuring" 
(AP - BEIRUT) — The latest on the conflict in Syria, where a fragile cease-fire has begun but scattered violence and clashes continue (all times local):
7:15 p.m.
 The U.N. envoy for Syria says the situation after the first day of a U.S. and Russian-brokered cease-fire is “quite reassuring.”
Staffan de Mistura says “the first night and first day certainly gave the impression that everyone is serious in their commitment to keep on going with this cessation of hostilities.”
De Mistura said Saturday that some incidents were always expected to occur but “on the basis of five years of conflict, what I have seen so far is [quite] reassuring in comparison to what we saw in the past.”
He says cease-fire monitors will work to improve the way they verify incidents and prevent them from escalating.
3:10 p.m.
The Islamic State group has claimed responsibility for a suicide truck bombing in central Syria.
The IS-affiliated Aamaq news agency says the suicide bomber targeted a military post near the town of Salamiyeh. Syrian state media said two people were killed in the blast, while an opposition group that monitors the conflict said three were killed.
The blast rocked the area hours after a cease-fire engineered by Russia and the U.S. took hold across Syria. The cease-fire excludes the Islamic State group and al-Qaida’s branch in Syria, the Nusra Front.
Feb 27, 2016 at 12:35pm EST
Guns fall mostly silent as delicate Syria truce takes effect

Guns mostly fell silent in Syria and Russian air raids stopped on Saturday, the first day of a cessation of hostilities that the United Nations has described as the best hope for peace in five years of civil war.
Under the U.S.-Russian accord accepted by President Bashar al-Assad's government and many of his foes, fighting should cease so aid can reach civilians and talks can open to end a war that has killed more than 250,000 people and made 11 million homeless.
Russia, which says it intends to continue strikes against areas held by Islamist fighters that are not covered by the truce, said it would suspend all flights over Syria for the first day to ensure no wrong targets were hit by mistake.
The truce seemed largely to be holding, though rebels reported what they described as occasional government violations, and one commander warned that unchecked, the breaches could lead to the agreement's collapse.
Jaish al-Nasr, a group affiliated to the Free Syrian Army (FSA) which has backed the truce, said government forces had fired mortars, rockets and machine guns in Hama province and that warplanes had been constantly present in the sky.
"Compared to the previous days it is nothing, but we consider that they broke the truce," Mohamed Rasheed, head of the group's media office, told Reuters.
Another FSA-affiliated group, Alwiyat Seif al Sham, said two of its fighters had been killed and four more wounded when government tanks shelled them in rural areas west of Damascus.
A Syrian military source denied the army was violating the truce agreement. State media described rocket attacks near Damascus and several deadly attacks by Islamic State. But overall the level of violence was far reduced.
"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," U.N. Syria envoy Staffan de Mistura said at a midnight news conference in Geneva.
"I think that the feeling that we have today is that the situation is very different but of course every day has to be monitored," he said.
The agreement is the first of its kind to be attempted in four years and, if it holds, would be the most successful truce of the war so far.
De Mistura said he intends to restart peace talks on March 7, provided the halt in fighting largely holds.

But there are weak spots in a fragile deal which has not been directly signed by the Syrian warring parties and is less binding than a formal ceasefire.

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