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29 Feb, 2016 14:59

Syrian truce holding, UN chief says – as rebels threaten withdrawal

Syrian truce holding, UN chief says – as rebels threaten withdrawal

The ceasefire in Syria appears to be holding, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said Monday as countries supporting the peace process were preparing to discuss the development. But a rebel official said the truce risks “complete nullification.”

"By and large the cessation of hostilities is holding, even though we have experienced some incidents," Ban told reporters in Geneva before a meeting of the International Syria Support Group.

"But the task force and all other members of this ISSG are now trying to make sure that this does not spread any further and this cessation of hostilities can continue."

Ahead of the meeting, France demanded information about several incidents reportedly violating the ceasefire.

"All this needs to be verified. France has therefore demanded that the task force charged with overseeing the cessation of hostilities meet without delay," said French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault.

Russia on Sunday reported several incidents involving rebel-controlled areas. In one case, a large fighting force crossed the Turkish border and attacked a Kurdish town with artillery support from the Turkish side, the report said. The rebels and the Turks denied the report.

Pro-rebel monitors said Russian warplanes conducted several airstrikes in western Syria. Russia insists that it excludes rebel groups that had pledged to hold the ceasefire from its missions.

Meanwhile, a spokesman for the Saudi-backed opposition High Negotiations Committee's delegation to the peace talks, Asaad al-Zoubi, warned that the truce may not hold.

"We are not facing a violation of the truce... we are facing a complete nullification," he told Al Arabiya al Hadath TV, claiming that the Syrian army continues attacks on rebel-held areas.

"I believe the international community has totally failed in all its experiments, and must take real, practical measures towards the regime," Zoubi said, without elaborating.

The truce, which excludes some hardcore Islamists, notably the terrorist groups Islamic State and Al Nusra Front, is hoped to pave the way for a transition in Syria, which would allow the country end the five-year-long hostilities between the government and rebel forces and allow it to defeat or at least curb the terrorists.