Syria army, rebels pursue talks on ceasefire near capital

Map of Syria. Image source lonelyplanet

Map of Syria. Image source lonelyplanet

Syria’s army and rebels pursued talks to reach a 15-day ceasefire in a rebel stronghold east of Damascus Thursday as fighting subsided in the area, a monitor and security sources said.

The two sides had been locked in talks overnight in the hopes of reaching a ceasefire deal by 6:00 am (0400 GMT), in what would be the first such agreement since new international efforts on ending Syria’s conflict began in Vienna last month.

A deal would also mark the first temporary truce in the Eastern Ghouta region east of the capital, which has been devastated by fighting since the outbreak of Syria’s conflict in March 2011.

“They failed to reach an agreement on the ceasefire by this morning, but the negotiations are ongoing,” said Rami Abdel Rahman, the head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group.

The typically active fronts around the opposition-held towns of Douma and Harasta were quiet on Thursday morning, he said, in an apparent gesture of good will.

Points of divergence included aid deliveries and the release of captives from President Bashar al-Assad’s Alawite minority held by the powerful Jaish al-Islam rebel group, the Britain-based Observatory said.

“The negotiations have only started, and they may need days or weeks to bear results,” a Syrian security source told AFP.

“We are open to any arrangement that stops the bloodletting,” the source added.

A second security source told AFP that Russia, a key backer of Assad, was playing a mediating role in the negotiations by reaching out to “supporters” of armed groups in Eastern Ghouta.

A fighter with Jaish al-Islam said: “We got used to waking up to the sounds of airplanes, but Douma was noticeably calm this morning.”

“A ceasefire was proposed multiple times last year, but we are in need of it now more than any time in the past,” he said on condition of anonymity.

“We’re tired of this long war.”

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