August 27, 2015 / 6:50 AM / 2 years ago

Warring sides in Syria agree to extend local ceasefires

BEIRUT (Reuters) - Warring sides in Syria have agreed to extend a ceasefire in a rebel-held town near the border with Lebanon and two Shi‘ite villages in the northwest, and to evacuate wounded, sources close to talks said.

Israeli soldiers demarcate an area as they stand near armoured personnel carriers (APCs) during an exercise in the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, near the ceasefire line between Israel and Syria, August 21, 2015. REUTERS/Baz Ratner

The truce is the second in a month in those areas between the Syrian army and its Lebanese Hezbollah allies on one side, and insurgents on the other. It came into force at 6 a.m. (0300 GMT) on Thursday.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which monitors the conflict, said there was “calm” in the areas early on Thursday.

Sources close to negotiations on both sides told Reuters later in the day the ceasefire had been extended from two to three days.

They said the sides had agreed to facilitate an evacuation of wounded people from the town of Zabadani and from the villages of Kefraya and al-Foua in the province of Idlib, beginning on Friday.

A source close to the government side said talks were continuing over other matters including a withdrawal of fighters from Zabadani and an evacuation of civilians from the villages.

In the meantime, wounded people from Zabadani were to be taken to Idlib province, which is mostly under rebel control, that source said.

The wounded from Kefraya and al-Foua would go to government-held Latakia, in President Bashar al-Assad’s coastal heartland.

A source on the rebel side said the wounded leaving the two Shi‘ite villages would travel under the protection of insurgent Sunni Islamist group Ahrar al-Sham.

The negotiations have been led on the rebel side by Ahrar al-Sham. The ceasefires are in western Syria, away from the main strongholds of Islamic State.

A truce which began on Aug. 12 broke down and fighting has raged since. That ceasefire was reached with the help of Iran and Turkey, who back the Syrian government and insurgents respectively and was intended give a chance for talks on a more lasting cessation of hostilities.

A government fighter in Zabadani said clashes had intensified before the latest ceasefire.

Zabadani has been the focus of an offensive by Hezbollah and the Syrian army against insurgent groups there. The area is of crucial importance to President Bashar al-Assad because of its proximity to Damascus and the Lebanese border.

Insurgent groups have in turn launched attacks on the two Shi‘ite villages in the northwestern province of Idlib, an area bordering Turkey that is mostly insurgent-controlled after a series of advances against the army this year.

Reporting by Mariam Karouny; Writing by John Davison and Tom Perry; Editing by Andrew Roche

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