Syria announces temporary ceasefire

Syrian army suspends combat operations in southern Syria until new round of peace talks begin in Kazakhstan.

Ben Ariel ,

Syrian forces celebrate their victory in eastern Aleppo
Syrian forces celebrate their victory in eastern Aleppo

The Syrian army said on Monday it would suspend combat operations in southern Syria until Thursday, ahead of a new round of peace talks in Astana, the capital of Kazakhstan, Reuters reported.

The army general command said in a statement carried on state television the ceasefire began at midday (0900 GMT) on Sunday and was to support "reconciliation efforts", according to the report.

Yet hours after the announcement, rebels and witnesses said Syrian jets resumed dropping barrel bombs on rebel-held areas in the southern border city of Deraa, the town of Naima to its east and countryside near the provincial city.

The army did not comment on the rebel allegations.

Barrel bombs are containers packed with explosives and scrap metal that are typically dropped from helicopters.

Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad has repeatedly denied using barrel bombs and has claimed in interviews that no such weaponry exists. The West, for its part, notes that only the regime has helicopters from which these weapons are dropped.

The ceasefire comes as Russian-sponsored talks are planned to begin in Astana on Tuesday. The last round of Astana talks in May led to the signing of an agreement between Iran, Russia and Turkey to create four de-escalation zones in Syria, one of which is in the south.

A rebel official said on Monday that the latest ceasefire was a ploy to drag the opposition to Astana. The rebel side has already expressed deep misgivings about the de-escalation zones, which they say benefit the Syrian army by freeing forces to allow them to make territorial gains elsewhere.

The Syrian army's announcement for the first time extends the ceasefire to the whole of southern Syria, including southwestern Quneitra province near the border with Israel and Sweida province in the southeast.

Tensions have risen near the border with Israel in recent days, as mortars from Syria have repeatedly exploded on the Israeli side of the Golan Heights.

The IDF has retaliated, the last time being on Saturday when it destroyed a cannon belonging to the Syrian army.