Syrian army declares city truce as Russia, UN plan July peace talks

PAUSE IN HOSTILITIES: The 48-hour ceasefire in Deraa comes amid new peace initiative –

BEIRUT: The Syrian army said it would suspend combat operations in the southern city of Deraa for 48 hours from Saturday, as mediators announced two separate attempts to convene new peace talks early next month.
The Syrian army general command said a ceasefire at 12 noon (0900 GMT) on Saturday was being implemented to support “reconciliation efforts”, according to a statement carried by state news agency SANA.
The local ceasefire announcement came on the same day as the United Nations said it wanted to start a fresh round of peace talks between Syrian factions on July 10 in Geneva, and Moscow said it hoped to hold talks in Kazakhstan’s capital Astana on July 4-5.
Since a resumption of peace negotiations last year, there have been multiple rounds brokered by the United Nations in Geneva between representatives of Syrian rebels and the government of Syrian 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 since January.
In an e-mailed statement the office of United Nations special mediator for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, said he wished to convene a seventh round of Geneva talks in July and further rounds in August and September.
Over more than six years the Syrian conflict has killed hundreds of thousands of people and driven more than 11 million from their homes.
In May, Iran, Russia and Turkey brokered a deal in Astana to create four de-escalation zones in Syria.
Violence levels have vastly reduced in those proposed de-escalation areas, but fighting has continued in major frontline areas, including in Deraa city.
The Syrian army and militia forces have escalated attacks against a rebel-held part of Deraa city in recent weeks, in a possible prelude to a large-scale campaign to gain full control.
De Mistura said earlier this week a new round of talks would depend on the progress made in setting up the de-escalation zones.
A war monitor said the level of violence in Deraa had fallen three hours after Saturday’s ceasefire was due to take effect, but rebels said the city was still being bombarded.
A rebel commander in Deraa said hostilities had not stopped. “We have not heard of any such talk and the regime is still attacking us with the same intensity,” the commander said at 3:30 pm (1230 GMT). — Reuters