Syria’s army command announced a ceasefire on Thursday to mark the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha but said it reserved the right to respond to any rebel attack or moves to reinforce President Bashar al-Assad's armed foes.
A Free Syrian Army commander gave qualified backing to the truce, proposed by U.N.-Arab League envoy Lakhdar Brahimi, but demanded Assad free detainees. An Islamist group, however, said it was not committed to the truce but may halt operations if the army did.
Brahimi proposed the temporary truce to stem, however briefly, the bloodshed in a conflict which erupted as popular protests in March last year and has escalated into a civil war which activists say has killed more than 34,000 people.
“On the occasion of the blessed Eid al-Adha, the general command of the army and armed forces announces a halt to military operations on the territory of the Syrian Arab Republic, from Friday morning ... until Monday,” an army statement read on state television said.
It reserved the right to respond if “the armed terrorist groups open fire on civilians and government forces, attack public and private properties, or use car bombs and explosives.”
It would also respond to any reinforcement or re-supplying of rebel units, or smuggling of fighters from neighboring countries “in violation of their international commitments to combat terrorism.”
Qassem Saadeddine, head of the military council in Homs province and spokesman for the FSA joint command, said his fighters were committed to the truce.
“But we not allow the regime to reinforce its posts. We demand the release of the detainees, the regime should release them by tomorrow morning,” he said.
However, Abu Moaz, spokesman for Ansar al-Islam, said the Islamist group doubted Assad’s forces would observe the truce, though it might suspend operations if they did, according to Reuters.
“We do not care about this truce. We are cautious. If the tanks are still there and the checkpoints are still there then what is the truce?" he said of the organization, which includes several brigades fighting in the capital and Damascus province.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon welcomed the planned ceasefire in Syria for the Eid al-Adha holiday and said it was important that Syrian government troops and armed opposition groups adhere to the truce, his spokesman said.
“Obviously the world is now watching to see what will happen on Friday morning,” U.N. spokesman Martin Nesirky told reporters.
“It’s important that all sides will adhere to this. We all understand that there is a lack of trust between parties, and therefore we all understand that we cannot be sure yet what will transpire,” he added, according to AFP.
Nesirky said that if hostilities are halted, “humanitarian workers are ready to move in, convoys are ready to go to be able to reach areas that have not been easily accessible because of the fighting.”
He said U.N. workers would act through the Syrian Red Crescent to start an emergency operation during the four-day Eid al-Adha holiday which starts Friday.
“We would simply fervently hope that the guns do fall silent, that there is a suspension in the violence so that humanitarian workers can help those who are most in need,” said Nesirky.
The United States hopes the Syrian government and its opponents will honor a planned ceasefire in Syria for the Eid al-Adha holiday, the State Department said on Thursday while voicing skepticism about Damascus’ record on keeping agreements.
“What we are hoping and expecting is that they will not just 'talk the talk' of ceasefire, but that they will ‘walk the walk,’ beginning with the regime, and we will be watching very closely,” State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told reporters at a news briefing.
“The Syrian regime in particular is good at making promises and less good at following through,” she said.
Brahimi’s predecessor, former U.N. chief Kofi Annan, declared a ceasefire in Syria on April 12, but it soon became a dead letter, along with the rest of his six-point peace plan.
Violence has intensified since then, with daily death tolls compiled by opposition monitoring groups often exceeding 200.
U.N. aid agencies have geared up to take advantage of any window of opportunity provided by a ceasefire to go to areas that have been difficult to reach due to fighting, a U.N. official in Geneva said.
“U.N. agencies have been preparing rapidly to scale up especially in areas that have been difficult to reach due to active conflict and which may become accessible as a result of these developments,” he told Reuters.
The U.N. refugee agency UNHCR said that it had prepared emergency kits for distribution for up to 13,000 families -- an estimated 65,000 people -- in previously inaccessible areas including Homs and the northeastern city of Hassaka.
“We and our partners want to be in a position to move quickly if security allows over the next few days,” UNHCR Syria Representative Tarik Kurdi in Damascus said in a statement.
The U.N. World Food Program has identified 90,000 people in 21 hotspots from Aleppo to Homs and Latakia in need food parcels and will try to reach them through local agencies, the U.N. official said.