The United Nations will delay the next round of Syria peace talksby two days to allow the cessation of hostilities in force since Saturday to take hold, UN Syria envoy Staffan de Mistura said.
International observers have acknowledged violations of the agreement intended to halt nearly five years of fighting while reporting that the level of violence has decreased considerably.
“We are delaying it to the afternoon of (March) 9th for logistical and technical reasons and also for the ceasefire to better settle down,” de Mistura told Reuters on Tuesday. The talks had been pencilled in for March 7.
The cessation of hostilities in force since Saturday was “a glimmer of hope”, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said, although he accused the opposition of violating the agreement.
The opposition in turn says the Syrian government has breached the fragile truce by repeatedly attacking its positions, which the government denies.
“We will play our part to make the whole thing work,” Assad said in an interview with Germany’s ARD television network.
He said the Syrian army had not reacted to truce violations in order to give the agreement a chance.
“The terrorists have breached the deal from the first day. We as the Syrian army are refraining from responding in order to give a chance to sustain the agreement. But in the end there are limits and it all depends on the other side,” Assad said.
The cessation of hostilities agreement, drawn up by the United States and Russia, is seen by the United Nations as an opportunity to revive peace talks which collapsed before they had even started a month ago in Geneva.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said there was an urgent need to implement the agreement and for the warring parties to return to the negotiating table, a UN statement said.
“They agreed on the importance of urgently moving forward simultaneously on implementing the cessation of hostilities agreement, providing vital humanitarian assistance to civilians, and returning to political negotiations,” the statement said.
US Secretary of State John Kerry said on Monday that while efforts were being made to track down alleged violations of the cessation of hostilities, there was currently no evidence to suggest they would destabilise the fragile peace.
De Mistura said he expected to see attempts to disrupt the ceasefire, and these needed to be contained to avoid them spreading and undermining the credibility of the truce.
“We don’t want discussions in Geneva to become a discussion about infringements or not of the ceasefire, we want them to actually address the core of everything,” he said in an interview.
De Mistura wants the Syrian sides to focus on constitutional reform, governance, and hopes elections can be held in 18 months. Prisoner releases would also be “very much up front on the agenda”, he said.
The cessation of hostilities agreement does not include Islamic State and the Nusra Front, and Assad and his Russian backers have made clear they intend to keep attacking the jihadist groups.
The Saudi-backed “moderate” opposition says that because some of their fighters are located in areas alongside Nusra, they fear being targeted too.
The Russian Defence Ministry said it was refraining from striking areas in Syria where the “moderate opposition” was respecting the ceasefire agreement, Interfax news agency reported.
A total of 15 ceasefire violations have been registered in Syria in the past 24 hours, Interfax quoted the Russian military as saying.
The Syrian military denied it was responsible for any violations and said “terrorist groups”, the term it uses to describe its enemies, were to blame. Operations against Islamic State and the Nusra Front were going ahead.
“The combat operations that the Syrian Arab Army is carrying out against Daesh (Islamic State) and Nusra are continuing according to the plans of the military command,” a Syrian military source said.
Moscow, meanwhile, called for the Syrian border with Turkey to be closed. Russia’s Lavrov said it was a channel being used to supply weapons to groups he described as terrorists, with some arms hidden in humanitarian aid deliveries.