Syrian civil war: Sporadic clashes mar ceasefire brokered by Russia and Turkey

Updated 6:58 PM EST, Fri December 30, 2016
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Story highlights

Syrian activist group: At least 10 people killed

Putin called the ceasefire agreement "very fragile"

(CNN) —  

Sporadic clashes and airstrikes on Friday marred war-ravaged Syria’s first day of a nationwide ceasefire brokered by Russia and Turkey, according to rights activists.

The country’s military said it halted operations at midnight, except against ISIS and other terror groups, the state-run Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA) reported.

The director of the London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, Rami Abdulrahman, told CNN that at least 10 people were killed Friday.

He said a sniper killed one person in Eastern Ghouta, an eastern Damascus suburb, and and nine people died in airstrikes in the town of Tadaf, located southeast of Bab city in the northeastern suburbs of Aleppo. Four children were among the dead in Tadaf.

Abdulrahman told CNN the death toll is expected to rise as many remain in critical condition. The SOHR could not confirm whether the warplanes were Russian or Turkish.

The SOHR said regime forces faced strong resistance from Islamic militants near the Damascus suburb of Wadi Barada.

More than 20 airstrikes were reported near Wadi Barada since Friday morning as militants repelled regime forces trying to advance on the suburb, activist Abu Mohammad al-Bardawi in Wadi Barada told CNN. The area is home to a major water spring that supplies Damascus.

CNN could not independently verify the reports of renewed violence on Friday.

SOHR also said government warplanes conducted more than a dozen strikes in northern Hama province Friday, which houses pockets of ISIS militants.

Additionally, activists in the city of Douma, about 6 miles from Damascus, reported shelling by regime forces.

No violence reported by Syrian, Russian media

Neither SANA nor Russian state media has reported episodes of violence Friday morning.

“I heard no skirmishes or shelling over the last 12 hours,” Ahmad Khabir, a resident of Idlib told CNN.

Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim, speaking after Friday prayers in the capital of Ankara, said he hoped the ceasefire leads to “a sustainable peace that would prevent further bloodshed and the killing of civilians, innocents and children.”

On Thursday, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced the agreement in which the Syrian government and opposition rebels would cease fighting in the country’s long-running civil war. Putin described the agreement as “very fragile” and said it demanded “special attention and patience.”

According to Russian state media TASS, Putin said the two sides had also agreed to enter peace talks to end the conflict that has raged for nearly six years.

Peace talks scheduled in Kazakhstan

Putin said the two sides agreed to enter peace talks to end the conflict, according to the Russian state-run TASS news agency. Three documents had been signed, Putin said: the ceasefire agreement, a package of measures to oversee the ceasefire and a declaration of readiness to enter into peace talks.

Those peace talks are to be held in Astana, Kazakhstan, in what Putin and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad described as “an important step for a final solution of the crisis,” according to a statement by the Kremlin.

Putin and Assad had discussed the agreement by phone Thursday, with the Syrian President saying he would comply with the ceasefire, according to the Kremlin statement.

Turkey and Russia are guarantors to the agreement.

But groups considered as terror organizations by the UN Security Council, such as ISIS, are excluded from the agreement, the Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs said.

The upper hand

The latest effort comes after previous ceasefire attempts by the international community crumbled.

A fighter from the Syrian Democratic Forces advancing on an ISIS position near Raqqa, Syria.
PHOTO: DELIL SOULEIMAN/AFP/Getty Images
A fighter from the Syrian Democratic Forces advancing on an ISIS position near Raqqa, Syria.

Eastern Aleppo had been under rebel control for four years and had been choked off by the Syrian regime, leading to shortages of food and supplies for civilians.

The Syrian regime then gained full control of Aleppo, a major turning point that has limited the opposition’s military and political options.

“We’ve had these rebel reverses, the loss of Aleppo – a victory by the Syrian regime,” said CNN military analyst Lt. Col. Rick Francona.

“So I think that the rebels are looking at this as maybe their last chance, and they may actually want this ceasefire to work. … But their hand is really weak right now.”

Turning point

A successful nationwide ceasefire hinges on many fighting factions laying down arms. Groups from Iraq, Iran and Lebanon are also fighting alongside the forces of Assad.

In a news conference in Turkey’s capital, the legal adviser for the Turkish-backed Free Syrian Army, Osama Abu Zeid, called the agreement “a complete truce with no exceptions or preconditions” that included “all areas and military factions in Syrian opposition territory.”

“The main goal is improving the living conditions for Syrian citizens,” he said.

“Our message to the Syrian population (is) that our fingers will remain on the trigger and we will present all sacrifices and we will take every path that will alleviate the suffering of the Syrian people.”

The Syrian rebel group Ahrar al-Sham did not sign the ceasefire agreement, a spokesman said.

“Ahrar al-Sham has a number of reservations over the proposed agreement and the negotiations,” the spokesman, Ahmad Qura Ali, said via Twitter. “We will make clear our reservations in due course.”

Where is the US?

Turkey and Russia appear to be sidelining the United States and driving what had been a UN-led political process.

Throughout the Syrian war, the UN Security Council has been widely criticized for failing to find a solution. Russia has played a role in that, as it used its veto power to reject several resolutions on the conflict.

A spokesperson for UN Special Envoy to Syria Staffan de Mistura welcomed the ceasefire in a statement.

US State Department spokesman Mark Toner acknowledged that Washington was not part of the negotiations but said the agreement was “a positive development.”

The US has led an international coalition to fight ISIS in Syria and has vehemently opposed any attempt to keep Assad in power.

Although Russia and Turkey brokered the agreement, the two countries have differed in their stance on Assad, whose family has ruled Syria for four decades.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said last month that Turkish forces entered Syria to help end Assad’s rule. Meanwhile, Russia is Assad’s most powerful ally and has propped up his regime since September 2015 with airstrikes.

Putin said Russia would begin scaling back its military presence in Syria, though it would continue to support the “legitimate Syrian government in its struggle with terrorism.”

The Syrian regime has frequently referred to opposition fighters as “terrorists,” long before ISIS gained a foothold in the country.

Onur Cakir reported from Istanbul, Angela Dewan wrote from London, Madison Park wrote from San Francisco and Ray Sanchez wrote from New York. CNN’s Muhammad Lila, Jennifer Deaton, Onur Çakir, Eyad Kourdi, Daniel Nikbakht, Eyad Kourdi and Lindsay Isaac contributed to this report.