UN’s Staffan de Mistura plays down expectations for progress as government and opposition officials gather in Geneva.
The Syrian military says it has suspended combat operations in the southern city of Deraa for 48 hours, as mediators announced two separate attempts to convene a new round of talks next month.
The Syrian army general command said the ceasefire, effective at 09:00 GMT on Saturday, was being implemented to support “reconciliation efforts”, according to a statement carried by state news agency SANA.
The announcement came on the same day as the United Nations said it wanted to start a fresh round of talks between Syrian factions on July 10 in Geneva, and Moscow said it hoped to hold discussions in Kazakhstan’s capital, Astana, on July 4-5.
Since a resumption of negotiations last year, there have been multiple rounds brokered by the UN in Geneva between representatives of Syrian rebels and the government of President Bashar al-Assad, resulting in scant progress.
Another track of talks brokered by Russia – a key Assad ally – has also been happening in Astana, Kazakhstan, since January.
In an emailed statement, the office of Staffan de Mistura, the UN special envoy for Syria, said he wished to convene a seventh round of Geneva talks in July and further rounds in August and September, reported Reuters news agency.
The United States welcomed the truce announcement and called on the Syrian government to live up to its ceasefire commitments.
“We will judge this initiative by the results not the words,” State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said in a statement.
She urged Syrian opposition groups to halt attacks to allow humanitarian aid to reach those in need.
In more than six years, the Syrian conflict has killed hundreds of thousands of people and driven more than 11 million from their homes.
Violence levels have been vastly reduced in those proposed de-escalation areas, but fighting has continued in major front-line areas, including in Deraa.
The Syrian army and Iran-backed militia forces have stepped up attacks against a rebel-held part of Deraa in recent weeks, in a possible prelude to a large-scale campaign to gain full control.
De Mistura said this week a new round of talks would depend on the progress made in setting up the de-escalation zones.
The US and Russia have been holding talks in Jordan on creating a separate de-escalation zone in southwestern Syria that would include Deraa province, on the border with Jordan, and Quneitra, which borders the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights.
Jordan’s government spokesman Mohammed al-Momani said on Saturday he hoped all parties would abide by the ceasefire, which was important for those in need of humanitarian aid, Jordan’s state news agency Petra reported.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) war monitor said the level of violence in Deraa had fallen seven hours after Saturday’s ceasefire was due to take effect. Yet, the SOHR and rebels said there was some bombardment for the first couple of hours.
The SOHR said there was a “cautious calm” by 7pm local time (16:00 GMT) on Saturday.