PHOTO: A pro-opposition demonstration in Atareb in western Aleppo Province on Friday


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UPDATE 1825 GMT: The UN Security Council has passed a resolution welcoming the ceasefire.

The Council supported “the documents mediated and issued by Russia and Turkey on December 29, 2016”, a version of the ceasefire which excludes both the Islamic State and the jihadists of Jabhat Fatah al-Sham from the truce.

Syrian rebels say the version of the ceasefire that they signed excluded only ISIS (see earlier entry).

The resolution’s final text dropped an endorsement of the ceasefire agreement. Western members of the Council sought last-minute changes to clarify the UN’s role and the meaning of the agreement brokered by Moscow and Ankara.

Reuters notes that “several delegates on the Security Council welcomed the ceasefire but said the agreement contained gray areas and that its implementation was fragile”.

UPDATE 1530 GMT: Claimed footage of rebels clashing with attacking pro-Assad forces near Douma in the East Ghouta area, northeast of Damascus:

UPDATE 1400 GMT: Rebel factions are accusing the Assad regime — and its allies including Russia — of a deception to justify ongoing attacks by pro-Assad units despite the national ceasefire.

The accord which was agreed by rebels excluded only the Islamic State from the truce. However, the activists say the Assad regime has signed a different version which omits several non-negotiable conditions — and apparently also excludes the jihadists of Jabhat Fatah al-Sham from the ceasefire.

That loophole can then be used by the regime to attack anywhere in Syria under the pretext that the attacks are on JFS or “Al Qa’eda-linked” factions (see earlier entry), whether or not the group is presented in the targeted area.

The text of the statement, translated by a Syrian activist:

The agreement signed on December 29 does not exclude any area or revolutionary group in Syria.

The agreement signed with the Russian govenment clearly specified that the regime will sign a similar version of the document. We were surprised with consecutive statements by Russian officials afterwards that completely contradict the contents of the agreement.

We were also surprised that the version of the document signed by the regime was different from the one signed by the opposition groups. Several non-negotiable key and fundamental points were removed from the version of the document signed by the regime.

Continued regime violations render the agreement void. We warn the international community of the massacre the regime and Hezbollah are preparing for Wadi Barada.

We emphasise our rejection of any exceptions in the truce agreement and consider exceptions to be breaches to the agreement. We are completely committed to the ceasefire if it does not exclude any area or group in opposition areas.

We call on the UN Security Council not to adopt the truce agreement until Russia abides by its commitments.

UPDATE 1115 GMT: The Free Syrian Army and other rebel groups have warned that it will cancel its adherence to the ceasefire agreement if pro-Assad attacks continue, including on the Wadi Barada pocket near Damascus.

The statement called on Russia to fulfil its commitment to guarantee the agreement, and on the UN to withhold endorsement — sought by the Russians in a resolution to be presented to the Security Council on Saturday — until Moscow does so.

UPDATE 1100 GMT: Civil society organizations, NGOs, local civil services, and activists have issued a joint statement about the regime threat to the Wadi Barada pocket, northwest of Damascus, with pro-Assad troops continuing to attack despite the national ceasefire.

The groups cite the ongoing shelling “threatening more than 100,000 civilians” and several attempts by the pro-Assad units to overrun the area. They note the long-term siege on Wadi Barada, and point to the regime attacks that have caused widespread water shortages in Damascus, affecting more than 4 million people.

Pro-Assad forces have bombarded Wadi Barada’s 13 villages for almost two weeks. Shelling and bombing has damaged the pumping station for the al-Fija springs, which supply more than 60% of Damascus’s water.

The statement rejects the Assad regime’s cover story for the ongoing assaults, saying the pretext of attacking jihadists of Jabhat Fatah al-Sham are “purely lies”, a position supported by analysts of the conflict:

A local Wadi Barada account is providing updates on Twitter — an appeal from activist Lina Shamy:

UPDATE 0730 GMT: A pro-Assad website has hailed the breaking of the ceasefire by the Syrian Army.

Al-Masdar News headlines, “Syrian Army Unleashes Hell on Jihadist Stronghold in Western Idlib”, describing the firing of missiles on the city of Jisr al-Shughour in Idlib Province.

Citing a “military source”, the article proclaims, “The Syrian Arab Army (SAA) took advantage of the recently-implemented ceasefire in Syria” to break the truce with its attack.

The only group excluded from Thursday’s ceasefire agreement is the Islamic State. Al-Masdar’s “source” says the target of yesterday’s missiles was the Turkestan Islamic Party, described as an “Al-Qa’eda offshoot”.

The TIP is an Islamist separatist group formed in western China. It sent a brigade into Syria for combat, including the March 2015 capture of Jisr al-Shughour from the Assad regime.

ORIGINAL ENTRY: Syria’s national ceasefire held in some parts of the country on its second day on Friday, but pro-Assad forces continued to attack in others.

The truce, brokered by Turkey and Russia, was observed in the northwest and most of the south. Russian and regime airstrikes were halted on opposition-controlled Idlib Province and opposition areas in Aleppo and Daraa Provinces. Taking advantage, opposition supporters turned out for the first major rallies since March.

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However, pro-Assad units continued to bomb and shell areas near Damascus that the regime is hoping to overrun, according to pro-opposition activists.

Those areas including the Wadi Barada pocket, northwest of the capital, that has been under assault for almost two weeks. The attacks have already damaged the infrastructure providing more than 60% of Damascus’s water, leaving about 4 million people with no more than two hours of supply each day.

Shelling was also reported in East Ghouta, east of the capital, especially on the key opposition town of Douma and the village of Midani.

Activists also said there were clashes in northern Hama Province, south of Idlib Province.

The ceasefire was brokered by Russia and Turkey. The Assad regime, rebels, and Iran — the regime’s other key ally alongside Moscow — accepted on Thursday.

Russia and Turkey are now planning political talks in Kazakhstan between the regime and opposition elements next month in Kazakhstan.

Turkey Declares Joint Monitoring Centers With Russia

In a further of the Turkish-Russian co-operation changing the dynamics of Syria’s conflict, Ankara has declared joint monitoring centers for the implementation of the national ceasefire.

A “senior Turkish official” said the centers will be in the Eskişehir airbase in Turkey and Russia’s Hmeimim airbase in western Syria:

We… will follow the cease-fire process together. We have already been working very closely in the recent month….Our ground forces will also keep track of developments and inform both our monitoring centers.

Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu confirmed the establishment of the centers and said a hot line between the Turkish and Russian airbases will be established.

Russia and Turkey were on opposite sides of the Syrian conflict, with Moscow backing the Assad regime and Ankara supporting the Syrian opposition and rebels. Relations were at breaking point when Turkish jets shot down a Russian warplane near the Syrian-Turkish border in November 2015.

However, a reconciliation between Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin fostered an alliance, beginning with a deal in which Ankara accept the reoccupation of all of Aleppo city by pro-Assad forces and Moscow acceded to a Turkish-rebel offensive claiming much of Aleppo Province from the Islamic State.

The alliance, now seeking political talks between the Assad regime and opposition, has effectively cut the US out of the process apart from Washington’s support of the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces.