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Syria Ceasefire Takes Effect

Syrian President Bashar Assad (C) walks with officials after performing the Eid al-Adha prayers in Daraya, a blockaded Damascus suburb in Syria on Sept. 12.Syrian President Bashar Assad (C) walks with officials after performing the Eid al-Adha prayers in Daraya, a blockaded Damascus suburb in Syria on Sept. 12.

A ceasefire came into effect in Syria at sunset Monday in the latest attempt led by the United States and Russia to bring some quiet in the 5 1/2-year civil war.

Residents and observers reported quiet in most of the country hours after the truce came into effect, though activists said airstrikes took place on contested areas around the northern city of Aleppo. But the most powerful militant groups have shown deep misgivings over the ceasefire deal, which was crafted without their input last weekend in Geneva between the top US and Russian diplomats, AP reported.

Hours after it came into force, a coalition of militant factions put out a statement that stopped short of committing to the ceasefire, a reflection of their distrust of the government.

The first week of the truce will be crucial. During that time, all fighting between the military of President Bashar Assad and militants is to stop. But, Assad's forces can continue airstrikes against the self-styled Islamic State terrorist group and Al-Qaeda-linked insurgents from the group once known as the Nusra Front.

The Al-Qaeda-linked insurgents are closely allied to many militant factions and are a powerful force in the defense of Aleppo in particular. That raises the danger that continued airstrikes will draw militants into retaliation, eventually leading to the ceasefire's collapse, much as previous attempts earlier this year fell apart.

Compounding the situation, a group of 21 militant factions issued a statement on Friday in which they warned against targeting Al-Qaeda-linked militants. The statement was non-committal about whether the groups would abide by the ceasefire. After a week, however, the conflict would potentially enter a dramatically different stage. A new US-Russia coalition will step in to target former Nusra Front militants and Assad's forces will no longer be permitted to.

Government forces will be allowed to fight defensively, target the IS group and, in some designated areas, go after Nusra forces.

The deal's architects hope that would pave the way for an extended period of restraint that can serve as the foundation for peace talks between the war's many sides.

As the ceasefire came into effect, US Secretary of State John Kerry said on Monday that militant factions must distance themselves from the Al-Qaeda-linked militants whose group recently changed its name from Nusra to Jabhat Fatah al-Sham, or Levant Conquest Front.

Russia's Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov said peace talks between opposition groups and the government could resume as early as next month. Multiple rounds earlier this year in Geneva failed to make progress. Ultimately, talks have run into the question that neither side is willing to budge on—the fate of Assad and his government. As a result, the war has continued the grinding violence that has so far killed more than 250,000 people and driven some 11 million people, half of Syria's population, from their homes since 2011.

When the ceasefire went into effect at 7 p.m. (1600 GMT), the Syrian Army issued a statement saying it would abide by a ceasefire until Sunday midnight, while maintaining its right to defend itself against any violations.

Hours before the ceasefire went into effect, Assad vowed that his government would take back land from "terrorists" and rebuild the country.  Assad spoke during a rare public appearance that included attending prayers for the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha in the Damascus suburb of Daraya where militants surrendered last month after a four-year siege.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which has a network of activists around Syria to monitor the conflict, said "calm is prevailing on most of Syria's territories."

Financialtribune.com