Middle East

Syria conflict: Army declares 72-hour Eid al-Fitr truce

People pray near relatives' graves during Eid al-Fitr in the rebel-held town of Dael, Syria (6 July 2016) Image copyright AFP
Image caption People in rebel-held Dael took advantage of the lull in the fighting to visit relatives' graves

The Syrian military has unilaterally declared a 72-hour truce covering the whole country, state media report.

The "regime of calm" began at 01:00 on Wednesday (22:00 GMT on Tuesday) and will last until midnight on Friday.

A number of rebel groups have said they will respect the truce, which covers the Islamic festival of Eid al-Fitr.

Earlier, President Bashar al-Assad made a rare public appearance outside the capital, Damascus, attending Eid prayers in the devastated city of Homs.

Large parts of Homs were once controlled by rebel forces, but for the past two years they have been confined to one besieged suburb.

There was no indication in the military's announcement that the "regime of calm", which came at the end of the holy month of Ramadan and the start of Eid al-Fitr, had been discussed with its opponents.

Image copyright AP
Image caption The presidency released photos showing President Bashar al-Assad in Homs on Wednesday

However, the Western-backed Free Syrian Army and allied rebel factions said they would abide by the truce "so long as the other side does the same".

"Until now, [the government] has not abided by what it has announced, in that it has launched a number of attacks in various areas today," said a statement posted on Twitter by Mohammed Alloush, the opposition's former chief peace negotiator.

A spokesman for the rebel group Jaysh al-Islam earlier told the Associated Press that it was battling government forces around the village of Mayda, in the rural eastern Ghouta region outside Damascus.

The state-run Sana news agency said government forces had gained control of large parts of the Mayda, making it a "launching point" to expand operations.

A rescue worker in the divided northern city of Aleppo also said barrel bombs dropped by government aircraft had struck the rebel-held Hraitan area.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a UK-based monitoring group, meanwhile said two children had been killed by missiles fired by rebel groups at the pro-government, predominantly Shia village of Zahraa, north-west of Aleppo.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Rebels said government forces were continuing to bombard the Damascus suburb of Douma

US Secretary of State John Kerry welcomed the temporary truce.

"We are trying very hard to grow these current discussions in a longer-lasting, real, enforceable, cessation of hostilities," he said during a visit to Georgia. "We hope that the 72 hours could perhaps be a harbinger of possibilities to come."

The military also did not say whether the truce would result in a pause in action against so-called Islamic State (IS) and al-Nusra Front, al-Qaeda's affiliate in Syria.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption The Syrian military said the "regime of calm" would be implemented across all Syrian territory

The rival jihadist groups were excluded from a nationwide cessation of hostilities brokered by the US and Russia in late February, which collapsed after several weeks with both sides accusing each other of repeated violations.

On Tuesday evening, 16 people were killed in an IS suicide bombing at a bakery in the north-eastern city of Hassakeh, where a crowd was buying bread before breaking their fasts on the last day of Ramadan.

More than 250,000 people have been killed since an uprising against Mr Assad erupted five years ago. Eleven million others have been forced from their homes.