In one incident, three anti government protesters were injured after security forces opened fire to prevent citizens from demonstrating as they emerged from a mosque, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. Encouraged by the government’s promise to cease fire, protesters surged onto the streets in numerous towns and cities to stage anti-government demonstrations, in a reminder of the early days of the initially peaceful 19-month old uprising against President Bashar al-Assad’s rule.
The Observatory also reported that fierce clashes had erupted between government forces and rebels east of the strategic town of Maarat Numan in northern Idlib. Fighters with the extremist Jabhat al-Nusra Front, which has vowed not to observe the truce, attacked a checkpoint, prompting the army to shell a nearby village, the Observatory said.
A statement from the Syrian army flashed on state television Thursday evening said the cease-fire would last through Monday, in accordance with a proposal by U.N. special envoy Lakhdar Brahimi that both sides stop fighting for the duration of the Eid al-Adha holiday.
Minutes later, the commander of the Free Syrian Army’s military council, Mustafa al-Sheik, told the television network al-Jazeera that if government forces stopped shelling towns and cities under opposition control, the rebels would abide by the cease-fire “out of respect for Brahimi.”
If implemented, the truce would mark the first pause since April in the intensifying violence in Syria, where more than 150 people on average are being killed daily, according to human rights and activist groups. It would also offer a glimmer of hope that the United Nations’ hitherto fruitless efforts to broker a broader diplomatic solution are not yet dead.
U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon hopes that the cease-fire will build momentum toward political negotiations, his spokesman in New York said. In Washington, the State Department urged both sides to respect the truce.
But the Free Syrian Army leadership only loosely commands the hundreds of fragmented rebel groups battling Assad’s regime nationwide, leaving it unclear whether all of them would respond to the truce call. The radical Jabhat al-Nusra, which has been playing an increasingly significant role on the battlefield, has said that it will not comply.
“For now, no one can speak for the armed opposition,” Sheik said. “It only listens to the Syrian will.”
Momentum for rebels
The cease-fire announcement coincided with indications that the rebels had seized control of several areas in the heart of the front-line city of Aleppo, where government forces have been battling since July to hold back a rebel offensive.