By Ellen Francis
BEIRUT (Reuters) - A U.S.-Russian brokered ceasefire for southwest Syria was holding more than nine hours after it took effect on Sunday, a monitor and rebels said, in the latest international attempt at peace-making in the six-year war.
The United States, Russia and Jordan reached the ceasefire and “de-escalation agreement” this week with the aim of paving the way for a broader, more robust truce.
The announcement came after a meeting between U.S. President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin at the G20 summit of major economies in Germany.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based war monitoring group, said “calm was prevailing” with no air strikes or clashes in the southwest since the truce began at noon (0900 GMT) on Sunday.
“The situation is relatively calm,” said Suhaib al-Ruhail, a spokesman for the Alwiyat al-Furqan rebel faction in the Quneitra area.
Major Issam al Rayes, spokesman of the Southern Front coalition of Western-backed rebel groups, said “a cautious calm” continued into the evening.
Another rebel official, in Deraa city, said there had been no significant fighting. It was quiet on the main Manshiya front near the border with Jordan, which he said had been the site of some of the heaviest army bombing in recent weeks.
A Syrian official indicated that Damascus approved of the ceasefire deal, describing the government’s silence over it as a “sign of satisfaction”.
“We welcome any step that would cease the fire and pave the way for peaceful solutions,” the government official told Reuters.
A witness in Deraa said he had not seen warplanes in the sky or heard any fighting since noon.
However, several ceasefires have crumbled since the onset of the conflict.
With the help of Russian air power and Iranian-backed militias, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s government has put rebels on the back foot over the last year. The wide array of mostly Sunni rebels include jihadist factions and other groups supported by Turkey, the United States and Gulf monarchies.
Earlier talks between the United States and Russia about a “de-escalation zone” in southwest Syria covered Deraa province on the border with Jordan, nearby Sweida and Quneitra which borders the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights.
“We negotiated a ceasefire in parts of Syria which will save lives,” Trump said on Twitter on Sunday. “Now it is time to move forward in working constructively with Russia!”
The deal marks the first peace-making effort in the Syrian war by the U.S. government under Trump, appearing to give him a diplomatic achievement at his first meeting with Putin.
A senior U.S. State Department official involved in the talks said further discussions would be necessary to decide crucial aspects of the agreement, including who will monitor its enforcement.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said the deal included “securing humanitarian access and setting up contacts between the opposition in the region and a monitoring center that is being established in Jordan’s capital.”
The U.N. Deputy Special Envoy for Syria said on Saturday the deal was a “positive development” ahead of the latest round of U.N.-sponsored peace talks to begin in Geneva on Monday.
Deraa and Quneitra are home to tens of thousands of people and form a center of the insurgency south of the Syrian capital Damascus. Rebels said intense air strikes had pounded Deraa’s opposition territory in recent weeks.
The multi-sided Syrian conflict, which grew out of popular protests against Assad’s rule in 2011, has killed hundreds of thousands of people and created the world’s worst refugee crisis.
(Additional reporting by Suleiman al-Khalidi and Laila Bassam; Editing by Janet Lawrence)