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Syria announces ceasefire in southwest Syria

By: Joel Gehrke, The Washington Examiner
June 17, 2017 Updated: June 17, 2017 at 1:48 pm
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photo - A Free Syrian Army fighter stands in his position  at al-Nuaimah village in Deraa province, Syria June 17, 2017. Photo courtesy of REUTERS/Alaa al-Faqier.
A Free Syrian Army fighter stands in his position at al-Nuaimah village in Deraa province, Syria June 17, 2017. Photo courtesy of REUTERS/Alaa al-Faqier. 

Syrian military officials announced a temporary halt to fighting in a southwestern city just hours after resuming artillery attacks on the city.

"General Command of the Army and Armed Forces has announced the cessation of all combat operations in the southern city of Daraa for 48 hours in support of national reconciliation," Syrian Arab News Agency, an outlet run by President Bashar Assad's regime, announced Saturday.

Daraa, Syrian just hours south of Damascus and miles north of the border with Jordan, has been hotly contested by Assad's regime and various opposition groups. The Islamic State and the Free Syrian Army have battled each other and Assad for control of the city. The ceasefire comes as western and Russian officials are trying to restart parallel peace talks to end the civil war without handing an advantage to strategic rivals.

"We welcome any initiative to reduce tensions and violence in southern Syria and thereby call on the Syrian regime to live up to its own stated commitments during this ceasefire initiative," State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said Saturday. "We will judge this initiative by the results not the words. The opposition should similarly halt attacks to allow the ceasefire to endure — and hopefully be extended — and humanitarian aid to reach those in need."

Rebel fighters portrayed the ceasefire as a small victory. "The regime's forces have stopped their military operations after big losses in equipment and men since the start of their campaign over a month ago ... after the failure of repeated attempts to advance," a Free Syrian Army spokesman told Reuters.

The ceasefire may alleviate pressure on pro-Assad forces, thereby allowing the regime to push for more territory on the border of Iraq and Syria. "[T]he Assad regime's depleted manpower means that it cannot conquer one piece of territory without exposing itself somewhere else," as Foreign Affairs Magazine noted recently.

The border between Iraq and Syria is of critical importance to Assad forces and the U.S.-led coalition. Iran, which is partnering with Russia to boost Assad, hopes that victory in the war will mean they have the ability to shuttle weaponry across Iraq and Syria to their terrorist proxies in Lebanon. And so there is a race underway between U.S.-aligned and Iran-backed forces in both countries to recapture both sides of the border from the Islamic State.

"The United States will continue to support constructive efforts to to de-escalate the violence in Syria and ensure humanitarian aide reaches those in need, while continuing the fight against ISIS and al Qaeda," Nauert said.

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