Clashes erupt near Damascus despite truce

Sporadic fighting reported in different places but guns and bombs mostly silent since the onset of the nationwide truce.

    Despite reports of intermittent fighting and anti-government protests across Syria, overall the nationwide ceasefire brokered by Russia and Turkey appears to be holding.

    The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) reported fighting early on Friday between troops and rebels in the central province of Hama and near the capital, Damascus.

    The SOHR, a UK-based information office which documents human-rights abuses in Syria, also reported an aerial attack on the rebel-held Wadi Barada valley near Damascus.

    Mazen al-Shami, an opposition activist from the Damascus suburb of Douma, said minor clashes nearby left one rebel fighter wounded during the day.

    READ MORE: Russia seeks UN endorsement of Syria ceasefire

    Separately, Ahmad al-Masalmeh, an activist  in Deraa province, accused government forces of opening fire on rebel-held areas.

    Al Jazeera has learnt that five people have been killed in violence in the first 24 hours since the ceasefire took effect at 22:00 GMT.

    Given that several past UN-backed attempts at halting the fighting in Syria have failed, it remains to be seen whether the current one, backed by Russia and Turkey, will succeed.

    'Major breakthrough'

    Al Jazeera's Hashem Ahelbarra, reporting from Turkey's Gaziantep near the Syria border, said periodic clashes in some parts of Syria were reported just hours after the ceasefire went into effect.

    However, the fact that the truce is largely holding amounts to a "major breakthrough" and could pave the way for a final political settlement, he said.

    "There are some sporadic clashes around Damascus in Wadi Barada and Deraa and in Aleppo, but activists operating on the ground say calm still prevails, which is a significant development," he said.

    Russia and Iran provide crucial military support to Assad [Abd Doumany/AFP]

    Russia announced on Thursday a deal it said had been accepted by seven of Syria's major rebel factions, though none of them immediately confirmed it, and one denied signing it.

    As with the previous agreements, the current ceasefire excludes the Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, which earlier had links to al-Qaeda, and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) group.

    Assad-Putin conversation

    Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Thursday that the ceasefire would be guaranteed by both his country and Turkey.

    And on Friday Russian officials said Syrian President Bashar al-Assad had conveyed his commitment to observing the truce during a phone call with Putin.

    Assad is reported to have agreed that the planned peace talks in Kazakhstan would be an "important step" in resolving the conflict.

     

    Assad also met a joint delegation from the European and Russian parliaments although it is not clear if the meeting took place before or after Thursday's deal was sealed.

    Russia and Iran provide crucial military support to Assad, while Turkey has long served as a rear base and source of supplies for opposition factions.

    Mohammad Javad Zarif, Iran's foreign minister, called the ceasefire a "major achievement" on Twitter on Friday.

    "Let's build on it by tackling the roots of extremist terror," he said.

    Qatar, which backs the Syrian rebels, also offered its full support to the ceasefire.

    READ MORE: Idlib overwhelmed by influx of Aleppo's wounded

    Nevertheless, Mohammed bin Jassim Al Thani, Qatar's foreign minister, called for continued dialogue and cautioned against fresh air strikes by the Syrian government.

    The ceasefire deal followed a Russian-Turkish agreement earlier this month to evacuate the last rebels from eastern Aleppo after they were confined to a tiny enclave by a government offensive.

    The retaking of all of Aleppo marked Assad's biggest military victory since the start of the 2011 uprising against his family's four-decade rule.

    "The defeat of the terrorists in Aleppo is an important step towards ending the war," Assad told TG5, an Italian TV station, in a recent interview.

    However, the capture of the city does not mean that the war has ended, he said, because "terrorists" are still in Syria.

    The truce came on the heels of a Russian-Turkish evacuation deal for Aleppo [Abd Doumany/AFP]

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and news agencies


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