Syria calm under fragile ceasefire12/04/2012 - 11:55:53
A fragile ceasefire brokered by the UN took hold in Syria today with regime forces apparently halting widespread attacks on the opposition but still defying demands by international envoy Kofi Annan to pull troops back to barracks.
If the truce holds, it would be the first time the regime has observed an internationally brokered ceasefire since Bashar Assad’s regime launched a brutal crackdown 13 months ago on mass protests calling for his removal from power.
The opposition called for peaceful protests tomorrow to test the government’s commitment to the accord.
There was deep scepticism that the regime would halt its fire for long, given that Assad has broken promises in the past.
Also, the regime said yesterday, on the eve of the truce deadline, that it reserves the right to respond to any aggression, potentially a pretext for breaking the truce.
Mr Annan’s plan calls for the deployment of international observers and talks on a political transition once a truce is in place.
The initiative has broad international support, including from Assad allies Russia, China and Iran, and is widely seen as the last chance for diplomacy to end the violence. The increasingly militarised uprising has been veering toward an armed insurgency.
The West and its allies doubt the sincerity of the regime’s pledges to comply with the truce plan, which calls on the Syrian government to allow peaceful protests.
A prolonged ceasefire could threaten the regime by encouraging large numbers of protesters to flood the streets, as they did at the start of the revolt against the four-decade rule of the Assad clan.
The government met those demonstrations with a harsh crackdown, and more than 9,000 people have died since, according to the UN.
Burhan Ghalioun, head of the opposition Syrian National Council, urged Syrians to demonstrate peacefully on Friday. Protests are common on Fridays after Muslims crowd mosques for noon prayers.
“Tomorrow, like every Friday, the Syrian people are called to demonstrate even more and put the regime in front of its responsibilities – put the international community in front of its responsibilities,” he said.
Both the government and the opposition have said they will abide by the truce, which began at 6am.
All the flashpoints of the uprising were reported quiet in the hours after the truce took hold.
The central provinces of Hama and Homs, the northern regions of Idlib and Aleppo, the capital Damascus and its suburbs, as well as Daraa to the south and Deir el-Zour to the east were all calm, said the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
However, troops, tanks and armoured personnel carriers continued to patrol several opposition strongholds, including Damascus and the city of Homs, activists said.
“There have been no withdrawals from checkpoints but calm is prevailing in all areas in Syria,” said Rami Abdul-Rahman, who heads the Observatory.
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