48-hour ceasefire begins in Syria rebel border bastion
A 48-hour ceasefire came into effect Wednesday in the last rebel stronghold along Syria's border with Lebanon, a resident and monitoring group said.
"We really noticed that it was relatively calm this morning," Mohammad, a resident of the flashpoint town of Zabadani, told AFP. "We didn't hear sounds of shelling or clashes, and we hope the situation stays like this."
Pro-regime forces, including Lebanon's Shiite militia Hezbollah, had been fighting rebel groups in a bid to seize the town since early July. Late Tuesday, the two sides agreed to implement simultaneous 48-hour ceasefires in Zabadani and two regime-controlled villages in northwest Syria, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman said "no shots have been fired since 6:00 am" local time (0300 GMT) in Zabadani as well as Fuaa and Kafraya. Fuaa and Kafraya in northwest Idlib province are under siege by a rebel alliance including Al-Qaeda affiliate Al-Nusra Front, which regularly fires rockets into the two Shiite towns. Mohammed Abu Qassem, secretary general of Syria's Tadamun (Solidarity) Party, told AFP he had negotiated the ceasefire on behalf of fighting groups inside Zabadani.
"Tadamun was authorised to negotiate with the government to reach a new agreement, Abu Qassem said. "Since the beginning of the military operation, we have been trying to find a solution to the crisis in Zabadani," he said, adding that a local administrative council, rebel groups and regime forces had signed off on the ceasefire. He said intensifying rebel attacks on Fuaa and Kafraya had expedited the agreement.
"We accepted the ceasefire because we wanted to end the battle with as few losses as possible," a security source told AFP, "but we won't accept that the armed groups stay in Zabadani after today."
According to the Observatory, negotiations are ongoing regarding the safe exit of rebel fighters from Zabadani, as well as the provision of food and medical aid to residents of Fuaa and Kafraya. Local ceasefires have been implemented intermittently in parts of Syria, often to bring in humanitarian aid to besieged populations. At least 240,000 people have been killed since Syria's bloody conflict erupted in March 2011.