By Ellen Francis
BEIRUT( Reuters) – A U.S.-Russian brokered ceasefire for southwest Syria was holding more than nine hours after it took effect on Sunday, a monitor and rebels said, in the most recent international attempt at peace-making in the six-year war.
The United States, Russia and Jordan reached the ceasefire and” de-escalation agreement” this week with the aim of paving the way for a broader, more robust truce.
The announcement came after a meeting between U.S. President Donald Trump and President vladimir putin at the G20 summit of major economies in Germany.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based war monitoring group, said ” soothe was persisting” with no air strikes or conflicts in the southwest since the truce began at midday( 0900 GMT) on Sunday.
” The situation is relatively calm ,” said Suhaib al-Ruhail, a spokesman for the Alwiyat al-Furqan rebel faction in the Quneitra area.
Major Issam al Rayes, spokesman of the Southern Front coalition of Western-backed rebel groups, said ” a cautious soothe” continued into the evening.
Another rebel official, in Deraa city, said there had been no significant battle. It was quiet on the main Manshiya front near the border with Jordan, which he said had been the site of some of the heaviest army bombing in recent weeks.
A Syrian official indicated that Damascus approved of the ceasefire deal, describing the government’s silence over it as a” sign of gratification “.
” We welcome any step that would discontinue the flame and pave the way for peaceful solutions ,” the government official told Reuters.
A witness in Deraa said he had not assured warplanes in the sky or heard any fighting since noon.
However, several ceasefires have crumbled since the onset of the conflict.
With the help of Russian air power and Iranian-backed militias, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s government has put rebels on the back foot over the last year. The wide array of mostly Sunni rebels include jihadist cliques and other groups supported by Turkey, the United States and Gulf monarchies.
Earlier talks between the United States and Russia about a” de-escalation zone” in southwest Syria covered Deraa province on the border with Jordan, nearby Sweida and Quneitra which borders the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights.
” We negotiated a ceasefire in parts of Syria which will save lives ,” Trump said on Twitter on Sunday.” Now it is time to move forward in working constructively with Russia !”
The deal marks the first peace-making attempt in the Syrian war by the U.S. government under Trump, appearing to give him a diplomatic accomplishment at his first meeting with Putin.
A senior U.S. State Department official involved in the talks said further discussions would be necessary to decide crucial aspects of the agreement, including who will monitor its enforcement.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said the deal included” procuring humanitarian access and setting up contacts between the opponent in the region and a monitoring centre that is being established in Jordan’s capital .”
The U.N. Deputy Special Envoy for Syria said on Saturday the bargain was a “positive development” ahead of the latest round of U.N.-sponsored peace talks to begin in Geneva on Monday.
Deraa and Quneitra are home to tens of thousands of people and form a center of the rebellion south of the Syrian capital Damascus. Rebels said intense air strikes had pounded Deraa’s opponent province in recent weeks.
The multi-sided Syrian conflict, which grew out of popular protests against Assad’s rule in 2011, has killed hundreds of thousands of people and generated the world’s worst refugee crisis.
( Additional reporting by Suleiman al-Khalidi and Laila Bassam; Editing by Janet Lawrence)
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