Damascus announced it has agreed to a four-day ceasefire across Syria for the Muslim holiday Eid al-Adha, the ‘Feast of Sacrifice.’ The truce will begin on Friday.
"We hope that they both realize the importance of a pause in the fighting… in the symbolic quieting, the silence of the guns," UN deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson said after a closed-door meeting of the 15-nation Security Council.
Eliasson confirmed that the temporary truce could “create a political environment, where political talks are possible.”
The ceasefire came after UN-Arab League peace envoy Lakhdar Brahimi visited Syria earlier this week, and is one of the first real breakthroughs in halting violence in the war-torn country so far.
Brahimi proposed that both sides lay down their arms for the Islamic holiday celebrated by most of the world’s Muslims, which begins on Friday.
Syrian army command agreed to suspend military operations, but insisted on the right to retaliate against any rebel attacks.
During this period, it said, it would also respond to attempts to smuggle in arms from neighboring countries, and against any rebel group attempting to reinforce. The army also said it would prevent “terrorists” from crossing its borders.
Activists claim that hours after accepting a UN ceasefire, the Syrian Army renewed shelling the suburbs of Damascus. Meanwhile, despite the government announcement, Syrian rebels are claiming they have made crucial advances in Aleppo and are now controlling the majority of the city. Neither of these reports, however, could be independently verified.
Ex-Pentagon official Michael Maloof is skeptical that the latest ceasefire will be effective.
“The government is prepared to have a ceasefire, but it takes two to tango, and I don’t know if the opposition is prepared to stand down,” he told RT. “I think they feel that the government will then take advantage of the ceasefire to realign troops and put in artillery. So I think that they are going to be reluctant to do that.”
The Free Syrian Army commander responded that the rebels would commit to the truce, on the condition that prisoners be released on Friday.
A spokesperson for the Islamist group Ansar al-Islam, which is held responsible for the majority of suicide bombings in Syrian cities, said that their fighters would not commit to the ceasefire, and expressed doubts that the Syrian Army would honor it.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon welcomed the ceasefire, saying it is important that Syrian governmental and opposition groups agreed to the truce. However, he said it remains to be seen what happens on Friday.
Russia’s Foreign Ministry weighed in on the agreement, saying that Moscow “is satisfied by the Syrian government’s decision.” Kremlin officials hope “the truce will be successful, and that millions of Syrian Muslim will enjoy the holiday without fear for their lives and their loved ones.”
Meanwhile, the violence in Syria continues. On Wednesday, a car bomb blast struck southern Damascus, killing at least six people and wounding dozens more, shortly before the Assad government agreed to a ceasefire.
The UN estimates that the conflict has left over 20,000 people dead, while various opposition groups claim the death toll now stands at 33,000. Over 340,000 refugees have fled the country.