Syrian guns silent, as truce takes hold

Ceasefire crucial but fragile; 270,000 died in war

Damascus—A rare calm prevailed across much of Syria Saturday as the first major ceasefire of the five-year war took hold and an international task force prepared to begin monitoring the landmark truce.
Guns fell silent at midnight in suburbs around the capital and the bomb-scarred northern city of Aleppo, AFP correspondents said, after a day of intense Russian air strikes on rebel bastions.
The nationwide cessation of hostilities, brokered by Washington and Moscow, is seen as a crucial but fragile step towards ending a war that has claimed 270,000 lives and displaced more than half the population.
It faces formidable challenges including the exclusion of the Islamic State (IS) jihadist group and Al-Qaeda’s Syria affiliate Al-Nusra Front which control large parts of the country.
“Honestly, I was surprised that the calm lasted through the night,” said Ammar al-Rai, a 22-year old medical student in Damascus.
“I think this is the first time we’ve woken up without the sound of shelling,” he said.
United Nations envoy Staffan de Mistura said peace talks would resume on March 7 if the truce holds and more aid is delivered — a key sticking point in negotiations.
The special task force was due to meet in Geneva on Saturday at 1400 GMT to oversee developments.
Its co-chairs Moscow and Washington have set up rival offices to monitor the truce along with a UN operation centre and would be first to deal with any infractions.—AFP

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