Fighting Slows Down In Syria As Cease-Fire Begins
KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:
A cease-fire is supposed to be underway in Syria now. It's part of a new agreement between the U.S. and Russia. Russia has agreed to call on the Syrian regime to stop its attacks on opposition areas. And the U.S. is pressing opposition groups to also stop fighting. A similar cease-fire was agreed to and then broke down back in February. NPR's Alice Fordham is with us now from Beirut. Hello.
ALICE FORDHAM, BYLINE: Good evening.
MCEVERS: So at this early stage, what are you hearing about how the cease-fire is going on the ground in Syria?
FORDHAM: Well, we've reached people across the country, and they seem to be suggesting a significant reduction in violence rather than total calm at this point. Definitely a reduction in the number of airstrikes. One person in the province of Idlib said there had been fighting during the day and things are actually really quiet now. In areas where there's been a lot of fighting, like the cities of Homs and Aleppo, people are still reporting shelling, some shooting. So it's early to tell. Last time, as you said, a cease-fire was attempted back in February, it took a little while for fighting to taper off, but it did hold for a few days.
And aid agencies hoping to get food into, for example, the besieged part of Aleppo are definitely - they're not going to try to do that tonight. They say they're desperate to get in there, but they're certainly going to wait until tomorrow, even after that to see if this holds.
MCEVERS: And some of the armed opposition groups, including groups who are backed by the U.S., say they would cooperate with the cease-fire, but they were initially wary of complying with some of the terms of the cease-fire. Can you explain that?
FORDHAM: So some moderate opposition fighters wrote a letter expressing concerns including the fact that there is no enforcement mechanism for violations of this agreement. They're deeply skeptical of Russia's assurances that they won't bomb the opposition and that at some point, they'll be able to ground the Syrian Air Force. But in reality, they have indicated that they will comply with this truce, with this cease-fire.
But the more extreme opposition, the group which until recently was part of al-Qaida, has been much more vocal into writing the deal as an attempt to weaken the opposition and to keep Assad in power.
MCEVERS: What's the Syrian government saying about this deal?
FORDHAM: The general commander of the Army announced today that the truce will be respected, although it gave caveats. It said it reserved the right to fight back. But President Bashar al-Assad has been characteristically defiant. He went to Darayya today, a place that had been a real symbol of the revolution and of the rebellion, was recently deserted after a surrender - hugely symbolic place for the opposition. He went there to pray today for the Muslim holiday, the Eid prayers. And he said that he would reclaim every piece of Syria and refer to all the opposition as terrorists.
MCEVERS: The agreement does outline a multi-step process. What are the next steps if these first ones do hold?
FORDHAM: So if both sides respect the truce and allow aid delivery, the next step comes into play whereby the United States and Russia will start military cooperation to strike extremists like this group with al-Qaida links and like ISIS, which does raise a lot of questions about what happens in Syria in areas where frontlines are just meant to stay frozen indefinitely. The plan for resolving these questions is with peace talks, but there's still a long way to go between the political opposition and the Syrian regime in terms of coming to any sort of agreement.
MCEVERS: That's NPR's Alice Fordham in Beirut. Thank you very much.
FORDHAM: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.