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Syrian truce agreed, but few expect it to hold

Date

Dana El Baltaji and Flavia Krause-Jackson

Chink of light ... a Free Syria Army fighter walks through a hole in the wall during fighting in Aleppo.

Chink of light ... a Free Syria Army fighter walks through a hole in the wall during fighting in Aleppo. Photo: AFP

Syria's President, Bashar al-Assad, and some rebel groups have agreed to a cease-fire during the Muslim Eid al-Adha festival this week, the United Nations Special Envoy Lakhdar Brahimi said.

Most groups involved in the Syrian conflict had agreed to the cease-fire, Mr Brahimi told the Security Council, saying he hoped it could allow space for a political transition to start even though there were no quick fixes, according to a diplomat in the room.

I assume that it will not last very long because of the tensions on the ground. 

A Syrian foreign ministry spokesman, Jihad Makdessi, said Mr Brahimi's proposal is still "being studied" by the armed forces. Mr Brahimi, who briefed the council by videolink from Cairo, said Mr Assad would announce his agreement today, according to the diplomat.

Russia's UN ambassador, Vitaly Churkin, said he was sceptical the deal would last. There are "too many players and too many spoilers as well", he told reporters in New York. "It's happened before that our best hopes were not borne out."

In Washington, the US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, said the US supported the ceasefire and would like to see it lead to a political transition and a lasting end to the violence. She said she would like to see the UN Security Council adopt a "framework" to achieve those results and include "some consequences" for those who fail to abide by such a plan.

The Syrian government and opposition fighters last agreed to a halt in hostilities in April. Within days the conflict resumed as each side accused the other of failing to abide by its terms. France's ambassador to the UN, Gerard Araud, yesterday repeated what he said months ago when a promised ceasefire was violated: "The proof of the cake is in the eating."

Mr Assad's government has been fighting a 19-month uprising that the opposition Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says has killed more than 30,000 people, and the UN has registered more than 350,000 people who have fled from their homeland. The conflict has spilled over into Lebanon and Turkey.

"The ceasefire is mostly about Eid, and I assume that it will not last very long because of the tensions on the ground," said Theodore Karasik, director of research at the Institute for Near East and Gulf Military Analysis in Dubai. "I don't think it will be honoured."

The UN's peacekeeping chief, Herve Ladsous, said this week the organisation was making contingency plans to send a new peacekeeping force to Syria should a ceasefire take hold and pending a Security Council mandate. The previous UN monitoring force withdrew in August.

The head of the opposition Syrian National Council, Abdelbaset Sieda, said yesterday that while rebel fighters were willing to halt fighting during the holiday, they would respond if attacked. Mr Sieda said he doubted the regime would honour the ceasefire and that Mr Brahimi didn't have "any mechanism to observe the situation".

Mr Assad declared an amnesty for rebels who lay down their arms while excluding those accused of terrorism, the state-run Sana news agency said on October 23. Those surrendering weapons to the Syrian authorities within a month would be pardoned and released, Sana reported, while those considered to have committed offences under the country's Terrorism Act would still face prosecution. The offer lasts for 30 days.

Bloomberg, Associated Press

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