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Syrian people crowd outside a bakery in the Salaheddin district of the northern city of Aleppo yesterday.
BEIRUT/GENEVA: Syria’s army command announced a ceasefire yesterday to mark Eid Al Adha holiday but said it reserved the right to respond to any rebel attack or moves to reinforce President Bashar Al Assad’s armed foes.
A Free Syrian Army commander gave qualified backing to the truce, proposed by UN-Arab League envoy Lakhdar Brahimi, but demanded Assad free detainees. An Islamist group said it was not committed to the truce but may halt operations if the army did. Brahimi proposed the temporary truce to stem, however briefly, the bloodshed in a conflict which erupted as popular protests in March last year and has escalated into a civil war which activists say has killed more than 32,000 people.
“On the occasion of the blessed Eid Al Adha, the general command of the army and armed forces announces a halt to military operations on the territory of the Syrian Arab Republic, from Friday morning ... until Monday,” an army statement read on state television said.
It reserved the right to respond if “the armed terrorist groups open fire on civilians and government forces, attack public and private properties, or use car bombs and explosives”. It would also respond to any reinforcement or re-supplying of rebel units, or smuggling of fighters from neighbouring countries “in violation of their international commitments to combat terrorism”.
Qassem Saadeddine, head of the military council in Homs province and spokesman for the FSA joint command, said his fighters were committed to the truce. “But we not allow the regime to reinforce its posts. We demand the release of the detainees, the regime should release them by tomorrow morning,” he said.
Abu Moaz, spokesman for Ansar Al Islam, said the Islamist group doubted Assad’s forces would observe the truce, though it might suspend operations if they did. “We do not care about this truce. We are cautious. If the tanks are still there and the checkpoints are still there then what is the truce?” he said of the organisation, which includes several brigades fighting in the capital and Damascus province.
Brahimi’s predecessor, former UN chief Kofi Annan, declared a ceasefire in Syria on April 12, but it soon became a dead letter. Violence has intensified since then, with daily death tolls often exceeding 200.
UN aid agencies have geared up to take advantage of any window of opportunity provided by a ceasefire to go to areas that have been difficult to reach due to fighting, a UN official in Geneva said.
The UN refugee agency UNHCR said that it had prepared emergency kits for distribution for up to 13,000 families - an estimated 65,000 people - in previously inaccessible areas including Homs and the northeastern city of Hassaka. The UN World Food Programme has identified 90,000 people in 21 hotspots from Aleppo to Homs and Latakia in need food parcels and will try to reach them through local agencies.
Earlier, rebels seized two northern districts in Syria’s largest city, Aleppo, activists said. “We have just liberated Ashrafiyeh and the Syriac quarter,” a rebel fighter said.