Syria, ‘most’ rebels agree to truce

DAMASCUS – Peace envoy Lakhdar Brahimi said on Wednesday that Syria and “most” rebel chiefs have agreed to a truce this week, boosting hopes of a breakthrough in the conflict, but the main armed opposition group was sceptical.

Syria itself said its army leadership was studying the proposal for a ceasefire in the 19-month conflict which since the summer has been claiming more than 100 lives a day.

A final decision would be announced on Thursday, the foreign ministry said.

“The Syrian government has agreed to a ceasefire” during the Muslim holidays of Eid Al Adha that start on Friday, Brahimi told reporters in Cairo, adding that “most” rebel leaders contacted said they also would observe the truce.

“If we succeed with this modest initiative, a longer ceasefire can be built” that would allow the launch of a political process, Brahimi said after talks with Arab League chief Nabil Al Arabi.

Brahimi said Eid Al Adha ceasefire would be a “small step” toward reaching a settlement but he was uncertain whether it would hold, according to diplomats

Brahimi hopes temporary cease-fire can break the cycle of violence and allow space for a political transition to start, a UN diplomat in the closed meeting said.

Brahimi warned that another failure would lead to a worsening of the conflict and spillover to other countries, the diplomat said.

The Free Syrian Army, the main rebel group, said it would cease fire during the four-day Eid provided government forces stop shooting first, but it expressed little confidence in the initiative.

“The FSA will stop firing if the regime stops,” its military council chief General Mustafa Al Sheikh said.

“It is impossible that the regime will implement the truce, even if it says it will,” he added.

However, Al Nusra Front rejected a truce in Syria proposed by, SITE Intelligence Group reported. “There is no truce between us and this transgressing regime that is shedding the blood of Muslims,” group said in a statement.

The Obama administration is cautiously welcoming the possibility of a temporary cease-fire in Syria, saying it hopes calm might lead to political transition.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton says she supports Brahimi’s initiative and wants a transition process ending the Assad family’s four-decade rule.

Clinton also condemned Lebanon blast that killed an anti-Syrian intelligence chief.

Clinton said the US doesn’t want a political vacuum in Lebanon that can be taken advantage of by Syria or others.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said on Wednesday that the conflict has now claimed more than 35,000 lives.

More than 35,000 people, mostly civilians, have been killed since the outbreak of Syria’s anti-regime revolt in March 2011, a watchdog group said.

Civilians, at 24,964, represented the vast majority of those killed, said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which counts as civilians non-military fighters who have taken up arms against President Bashar Al Assad.

It said the balance consisted of 8,767 soldiers and 1,276 military defectors.

Ahead of any ceasefire, at least 63 people were killed on Wednesday, 40 of them civilians, as the army tried to wrest back control of rebel-held enclaves across the country, said the Observatory.

Five members of the same family, including a woman and a child, were killed in an air strike on Maaret Shamirin village in the province, said the Observatory.

A car bomb explosion in southern Damascus killed six people and wounded 20 others on Wednesday, state television said, while a watchdog gave a death toll of eight.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said “a car bomb hit the area between Tadamun and Daf Al Shuk, targeting a vehicle carrying 24 passengers, killing eight people.”

Meanwhile, Russia’s chief military officer says Syrian rebels have acquired portable air defence missiles, including US-made Stinger missiles.

General Nikolai Makarov, the chief of the military’s General Staff, didn’t say how many such missiles the rebels had and who supplied them.

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