A CEASEFIRE APPEARS to have come into effect in Syria, with opposition activists saying conflict hotspots were quiet hours after a deadline for a truce passed this morning.
It is the first lull after weeks of escalating attacks on opposition strongholds. President Bashar Assad’s regime last night promised special peace envoy Kofi Annan it would halt fighting.
Still, expectations were low for an abrupt end to the bloodshed that has roiled Syria for 13 months and claimed more than 9,000 lives. Syria has backtracked on previous peace plans, has characterised the uprising it’s facing as a terrorist plot and has escalated the shelling of rebellious areas in recent weeks.
The regime also set an important truce condition when it announced yesterday it would halt the fighting — saying it still has a right to defend itself against the terrorists that it says are behind the country’s uprising.
Under Annan’s plan, the cease-fire is to be followed by the deployment of an observer mission and negotiations between Assad’s government and the opposition on a political transition.
Opposition activists said the 6am Thursday truce deadline passed without reports of major violence.
Rami Abdul-Rahman, who heads the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said all of Syria’s flashpoints in 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 quiet.
“Nothing is happening in these hotspots so far,” said Abdul-Rahman, referring to the areas that have witnessed intense attacks by government forces and clashes between troops and defectors over the past few weeks.
In the city of Homs, activist Tarek Badrakhan said no explosions or shelling were heard since 10 pm Wednesday, but that army vehicles were still in the streets thismorning.
Badrakhan said nights are usually quiet, with shelling resuming in the mornings, and that it was too early to judge whether attacks had been halted.
The rebel Free Syrian Army, a fighting force determined to bring down Assad, has said it will abide by the cease-fire. But the opposition is not well organized, and there are growing fears of groups looking to exploit the chaos.
A cease-fire could pose a major risk for the Assad regime.
Many activists predict that huge numbers of protesters would flood the streets if Assad fully complies with the agreement and pulls his forces back to barracks. But Syria has ways to maintain authority even without the military, in the form of pro-regime gunmen called “shabiha” and the fiercely loyal and pervasive security apparatus.