After months of sustained high-intensity violence, a tenuous calm has descended over Syria since day-break on Thursday, fuelling some hope that a ceasefire plan backed by the U.N. and marshalled by its envoy Kofi Annan may manage to take root in the strife-torn nation.
The Syrian opposition, which has been battling government forces in the cities and towns for nearly a year, has acknowledged that the guns have, with some minor exceptions, fallen silent after the break of dawn on Thursday.
Bassma Kodmani, a spokeswoman of the Syrian National Council in Geneva, told Reuters that one person had been killed following two instances when tank-fire was used. However, the entire country had been generally quieter. Another eyewitness from Homs — for long the epicentre of the anti-regime revolt — told the news agency that after a “bloody night” when the city was shelled, “there is no shooting”.
Amid the relative calm, opposition activists expressed deep anxiety that Syrian troops were not pulling out of the cities and towns in accordance with Mr. Annan's plan. An activist in Homs, identified only as Yazan, said: “Snipers, tanks and soldiers are still there. They haven't gone anywhere. People are wary, and they believe that this cease-fire is only temporary. Nobody is leaving their home.”
Analysts point out that based on their earlier experience, it was unlikely that the Syrian forces would hastily pull out forces and allow a sudden power vacuum to emerge. On the contrary, it was likely that the withdrawal of forces would be timed with the positioning of ceasefire monitors from the U.N.
A report circulated by Syria's state-run news agency SANA reflected the reluctance in the Syrian establishment to fritter away its military advantage with a swift pull-out. The agency quoted an “official source” as saying after enforcing “the authority of the state on all its territories,” the “armed forces will be on alert to confront any attack by armed terrorist groups against civilians, law-enforcement members, the armed forces and private and public facilities”.
On Thursday, Foreign Ministry spokesman Jihad Makdissi said his government was “fully committed” to the ceasefire, which would not be breached unless the rebels staged attacks.
In response to the incremental headway that the ceasefire appeared to be making, China welcomed the government's “relevant decision, which will help to ease tensions”. The Chinese Foreign Ministry also called upon “the Syrian armed opposition to immediately cease fire and implement Mr. Annan's six-point proposal”.
The first challenge to the tentative ceasefire was expected on Friday, when the opposition has called for peaceful protests countrywide. In the past, street protests have followed the Friday prayers, which are attended by millions.