Syria rebel groups ‘will respect truce’

Syrian government forces patrol near Aleppo, 21 FebImage copyright

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The cessation comes as government forces have been making gains around Aleppo in the north

Almost 100 rebel factions have agreed to respect an imminent cessation of hostilities in Syria, the main Syrian opposition group has said.

The High Negotiations Committee said Free Syrian Army factions and the armed opposition had signed up to the temporary truce from midnight Saturday.

The news came after Russia was accused of intensively striking rebel strongholds ahead of the cessation.

Russia said it was continuing to bomb “terrorists” in parts of Syria.

World powers agreed on 12 February that a truce would start within a week but that deadline passed and scepticism had lingered over the new plan.

The “cessation of hostilities” involves regime and rebel forces – but not the so-called Islamic State (IS) group and the al Qaeda-linked Nusra Front.

Warring parties in Syria were meant to make their intentions known by midday (10:00 GMT) Friday ahead of the pause in fighting.

Announcing the intentions of rebel factions, the HNC said the Syrian government and its allies must not use the “proposed text to continue the hostile operations against the opposition factions under the excuse of fighting terrorism”.

Overnight, Russian air strikes which were “more intense than usual” hit rebel bastions including at Eastern Ghouta east of Damascus, in the north of Homs province and in the west of Aleppo province, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group said.

“It’s more intense than usual,” Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman was quoted by news agency AFP as saying. “It’s as if they [the Russians and the government] want to subdue rebels in these regions or score points before the ceasefire.”

But Russian President Vladimir Putin said his forces were targeting IS, Nusra Front and other extremist groups designated as legitimate targets by the UN Security Council, adding that “the decisive fight against them” would “without doubt, be continued”.

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