Syrian Cease-Fire Generally Holds, Some Violence Reported

The cease-fire in Syria that began Saturday has mostly held, but there have been some incidents of violence.

State media report that a car bomb explosion on the outskirts of the central city of Salamiyeh in Hama province killed two soldiers. No one has claimed responsibility for the blast near the town’s entrance.

Elsewhere, clashes between government forces and rebel groups were reported in Latakia province near the Turkish border.

The truce, brokered by the United States and Russia, took effect at midnight Friday Damascus time (2200 UTC). The Syrian opposition’s umbrella group, the High Negotiations Committee, said in a statement that 97 groups promised to take part in the cease-fire.

The truce does not apply to Islamic State and the al-Qaida-linked al-Nusra Front terror groups.

President Barack Obama said Saturday in his weekly address the Islamic State’s territory in Syria is shrinking. He said the number of fighters on the battlefield is dwindling and it has become harder for the jihadists “to recruit and replenish their ranks.”

The United States is working with “partners around the world” to discredit the ideology the Islamic State uses “to radicalize, recruit and inspire people to violence,” Obama said.

Less than an hour before the temporary truce went into effect, members of the U.N. Security council unanimously endorsed the deal in New York.

Saturday is ‘critical’

At the same meeting, U.N. Syria envoy Staffan de Mistura announced that if the truce largely holds and humanitarian aid access continues, he will reconvene intra-Syrian peace talks in Geneva on March 7.

“Saturday will be critical,” de Mistura told the council via a video link from Geneva. “No doubt there will be no shortage of attempts to undermine this process. We are ready for it – we should not be impressed, we should not be overly concerned.”

He said after the meeting that a report he received at three minutes after midnight Damascus time indicated that both Darayya and Damascus had calmed down.

The cessation of hostilities applies to all of Syria, except for areas where the so-called Islamic State and another armed group, Jabat al-Nusra, operate, as well as terrorist groups already designated by the Security Council.

Responsibility for addressing violations falls to the United States and Russia, co-chairs of the International Support Group for Syria (ISSG) – not the U.N.

Obama said the United States will do everything it can to make the agreement hold.

On Friday, State Department spokesman Mark Toner said the United States has received assurances from Russia that it would not launch strikes against the “moderate opposition” in Syria after the truce took effect. He called it “put up or shut up time” for Russia to show whether it is serious about stopping the fighting.

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