BEIRUT, June 18: The Syrian military announced Saturday the cessation of all combat operations in the southern city of Daraa for 48 hours in support of national reconciliation after days of violence in the area where the country's crisis began six years ago.
The announcement comes days after the contested city witnessed some of the worst fighting in months amid fears by opposition activists that the government will try to take Daraa, where the country's civil war began in 2011.
In a statement, the army's General Command said that all combat operations will stop as of Saturday 12 p.m. (0900 GMT) for 48 hours. A "de-escalation agreement" brokered by Iran, Russia and Turkey in May has not brought any relief to the city, activists said. The agreement covers four zones in Syria where the rebels are fighting pro-government forces.
The Syrian government refers to national reconciliation when a deal is reached with local gunmen to give up fighting against the state in return for an amnesty. Saturday's announcement came amid talks that are underway in neighboring Jordan to calm the situation in southern Syria.
A western diplomat said in Beirut this week that the U.S., Russia and Jordan were holding closed door-meetings in Amman to halt the fighting between rebels and the government in southern Syria.
The three states are debating the boundaries of a cease-fire line between the government and rebels in what is hoped to be a comprehensive agreement that would delineate the control of border crossings with Jordan, the diplomat said, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to brief the media.
In the northern city of Raqqa, the self-proclaimed capital of the Islamic State group, a U.S.-backed Syrian force entered new neighborhoods east and west of the city adding that they were able to free dozens of civilians who were trapped in the fighting.
IS has been preventing civilians from leaving Raqqa in an apparent attempt to use them as human shields.
The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces have been launched an offensive to capture Raqqa from the extremists on June 6, under the cover of airstrikes by the U.S.-led coalition. SDF fighters captured at least three neighborhood from IS since then.
The SDF said in a statement posted on social media Saturday that its fighters have now entered the western neighborhoods of Bareed and Hiteen and Qadissiya as well as the eastern neighborhood of Bayatra.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which tracks Syria's war, says airstrikes by the U.S.-led coalition since June 6 have killed 117 civilians and wounded hundreds.