UN envoy: Syrian gov, rebels agree to truce

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BEIRUT  — The Syrian government and some rebel leaders have agreed to a ceasefire during an upcoming four-day holiday of Eid-al Azha, the U.N.-Arab League envoy to Syria announced Wednesday.

Lakhdar Brahimi told reporters in Cairo that President Bashar Assad’s government has agreed to a truce during the Eid al-Azha holiday, which begins Friday. Brahimi said Damascus will issue a statement on accepting the truce for the holiday later “today or tomorrow.”

Brahimi’s announcement came as government forces intensified airstrikes on rebel-held area near the besieged city of Aleppo. The fighting in Syria has killed more than 34,000 people since March last year, according to activists.

Brahimi didn’t elaborate on how such a truce would be monitored. The envoy has met with Assad in Damascus on Sunday as part of his push for a cease-fire between rebels and government forces. He also held talks last week with opposition groups inside and outside Syria and earlier received “promises” but not a “commitment” from them to honor the cease-fire.

In Damascus, Foreign Ministry spokesman Jihad Makdessi stressed Wednesday that the cessation of military operations during Eid al-Azha is still “being studied” by the General Command of the Army and the Syrian armed forces, and that “the final position on this matter will be issued on Thursday.”

Abdelbaset Sieda, the head of the Syrian National Council, the main opposition group in exile, told The Associated Press that he had little hope the truce would take hold. He said opposition fighters have told him they are willing to adhere to it, but will respond if attacked by regime forces.

“This regime, we don’t trust it, because it is saying something and doing something else on the ground,” Sieda said Wednesday in a phone interview from Stockholm, Sweden.

Brahimi’s proposal is far more modest than a six-point plan by his predecessor as Syrian envoy, former U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan. A cease-fire was the centerpiece of Annan’s proposal and was to lead to talks on a peaceful transition.

However, a truce never took hold and both sides violated their commitments, though Annan said at the time the regime was the main aggressor because it refused to withdraw troops and heavy weapons from population centers.

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