A cautious calm prevails Syria’s northwestern province of Idlib as a cease-fire entered into force last Saturday, the pro-government al-Watan newspaper reported Wednesday.
The cease-fire, which was unilaterally announced by the Syrian army, was announced in the de-escalation zone, which includes Idlib as well as nearby countryside areas of Hama, Latakia and Aleppo provinces in northern Syria.
The newspaper said the al-Qaida-linked Nusra Front is still reluctant to withdraw from the surrounding of the main road connecting Damascus with Aleppo province and Aleppo with Latakia.
This road is crucial for the Syrian army and it’s currently cut as the rebels in Idlib are in control of the stretch of the road that passes through Idlib.
Meanwhile, the report said that civilians in some areas in Idlib such as Maarat al-Numan, Kafr Takharim, and Ariha have protested against the al-Qaida-linked groups, urging them to leave.
For its side, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights war monitor said Wednesday that relative cautious calm continued on the fifth day of the cease-fire in the de-escalation zone.
It said that the current cease-fire is the longest in terms of the halt of airstrikes that had intensified since the battles raged in that region in April.
Still, the Britain-based watchdog group said the Syrian government forces and rebels exchanged fire in areas in Latakia countryside as well as Idlib and Hama countryside.
It said that two Syrian soldiers were killed in clashes in the eastern countryside of Hama.
On Sunday, Syria’s presidential advisor Buthaina Shabaan said the cease-fire that was declared by the Syrian army is “temporary.”
She said the cease-fire is a unilateral decision by Russia and Syria and is not part of any other understandings.
The presidential advisor said the Turkish army, which entered parts of Idlib, will be “forced” to leave Syria.
On Friday, the Syrian army agreed to observe a cease-fire in Idlib, the last major rebel stronghold in the country, as of Saturday morning.
The Syrian army said it reserves the right to respond to any violation by the al-Qaida-linked Nusra Front, the backbone of the Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), which is the most powerful rebel group in Idlib.
Hours ahead of the official Syrian announcement, Russia’s Defense Ministry declared the cease-fire, noting that it is a “unilateral” move to stabilize the situation in Idlib. It urged the rebels to abandon armed provocations and join the peace process.
This is the second truce announced in Idlib this month. On Aug. 1, a Russian and Turkish-backed cease-fire was reached but it quickly collapsed.
Since then, battles flared and the Syrian government forces were able to make notable gains, capturing key areas in the southern countryside of Idlib and the adjacent northern countryside of Hama province.
The new cease-fire aims at halting the fighting in Idlib between the Syrian army and the al-Qaida-linked groups.
The de-escalation zone deal was established by Russia and Turkey last September.
Under the deal, Turkish observation points were set up in some areas in Idlib and Hama. However, the deal failed to materialize as the Nusra Front refused to withdraw and fighting continued.