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Tuesday, September 13, 2016, 11:09

Opposition wary as Syria truce takes effect

By Associated Press
Opposition wary as Syria truce takes effect
In this photo released by the Syrian official news agency SANA, Syrian President Bashar Assad, center, walks on a street with officials after performing the morning Eid al-Adha prayers in Daraya, a blockaded Damascus suburb, Syria, Sept 12, 2016. Residents and observers reported quiet in most of the country hours after a US-Russia-sponsored truce came into effect at sunset Monday. (Photo / AP)

BEIRUT — A cease-fire came into effect in Syria at sunset Monday in the latest attempt led by the United States and Russia to bring some quiet in the 5 1/2-year civil war.

Residents and observers reported quiet in most of the country hours after the truce came into effect, though activists said airstrikes took place on contested areas around the northern city of Aleppo.

But the most powerful rebel groups have shown deep misgivings over the cease-fire deal, which was crafted without their input last weekend in Geneva between the top US and Russian diplomats.

Hours after it came into force, a coalition of rebel factions put out a statement that stopped short of committing to the cease-fire, a reflection of their distrust of the government.

The first week of the truce will be crucial. During that time, all fighting between the military of President Bashar Assad and rebels is to stop. But, Assad's forces can continue air strikes against the Islamic State group and al-Qaida-linked insurgents from the group once known as the Nusra Front.

However, the al-Qaida linked insurgents are closely allied to many rebel factions and are a powerful force in the defense of Aleppo in particular.

Compounding the situation, a group of 21 rebel factions issued a statement Friday in which they warned against targeting al-Qaida-linked militants. The statement was non-committal about whether the groups would abide by the cease-fire.

After a week, however, the conflict would potentially enter a dramatically different stage. A new US-Russia coalition will step in to target former Nusra Front militants, and Assad's forces will no longer be permitted to. That will effectively remove Assad's pretext for war on opposition areas, which he calls a war on terror. Government forces will be allowed to fight defensively, target the Islamic State group and, in some designated areas, go after Nusra forces.

As the cease-fire came into effect, US Secretary of State John Kerry said Monday that rebel factions must distance themselves from the al-Qaida-linked militants, whose group recently changed its name from Nusra to Jabhat Fatah al-Sham, or Levant Conquest Front.

Russia's Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov said peace talks between opposition groups and the government could resume as early as next month.

Multiple rounds earlier this year in Geneva failed to make progress. Ultimately, talks have run into the question that neither side is willing to budge on — the fate of Assad and his government. As a result, the war has continued the grinding violence that has so far killed more than 250,000 people and driven some 11 million people, half of Syria's population, from their homes since 2011.

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