Syria’s army command announced a ceasefire on Thursday to mark the Muslim holiday of Eid al Adha but said it reserved the right to respond to any rebel attack or moves to reinforce President Bashar al-Assad’s armed foes.
A Free Syrian Army commander gave qualified backing to the truce, proposed by U.N.-Arab League envoy Lakhdar Brahimi, but demanded Assad free detainees. An Islamist group said it was not committed to the truce but may halt operations if the army did.
Brahimi proposed the temporary truce to stem, however briefly, the bloodshed in a conflict which erupted as popular protests in March last year and has escalated into a civil war which activists say has killed more than 32,000 people.
The fighting pits mainly Sunni Muslim rebels against Assad, from the Alawite faith which is linked to Shi’ite Islam, and threatens to draw in regional Sunni Muslim and Shi’ite powers and engulf the whole Middle East, Brahimi has warned.
“On the occasion of the blessed Eid al-Adha, the general command of the army and armed forces announces a halt to military operations on the territory of the Syrian Arab Republic, from Friday morning until Monday,” an army statement read on state television said.
It reserved the right to respond if “the armed terrorist groups open fire on civilians and government forces, attack public and private properties, or use car bombs and explosives”.
It would also respond to any reinforcement or re-supplying of rebel units, or smuggling of fighters from neighboring countries “in violation of their international commitments to combat terrorism”.
Qassem Saadeddine, head of the military council in Homs province and spokesman for the FSA joint command, said his fighters were committed to the truce.
“But we not allow the regime to reinforce its posts. We demand the release of the detainees, the regime should release them by tomorrow morning,” he said.
Abu Moaz, spokesman for Ansar al-Islam, said the Islamist group doubted Assad’s forces would observe the truce, though it might suspend operations if they did.
“We do not care about this truce. We are cautious. If the tanks are still there and the checkpoints are still there then what is the truce?” he said of the organization, which includes several brigades fighting in the capital and Damascus province.
Brahimi’s predecessor, former U.N. chief Kofi Annan, declared a ceasefire in Syria on April 12, but it soon became a dead letter, along with the rest of his six-point peace plan.
Violence has intensified since then, with daily death tolls compiled by opposition monitoring groups often exceeding 200.