Syrian government and rebels agree to holiday cease-fire, but two jihadist groups don't

A rebel fighter loads his weapon at a house during fighting against Syrian government forces in the Bab el-Adid district in Aleppo on October 23, 2012. UN-Arab League envoy Lakhdar Brahimi is pushing 'extremely hard' for a ceasefire in Syria and will brief the UN Security Council on Wednesday on his efforts, the UN spokesman said. FABIO BUCCIARELLI/AFP/Getty Images

DAMASCUSThe Syrian government and the Free Syrian Army agreed on Thursday to a cease-fire during the four-day Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha, which begins Friday, but major disagreements and dissent amongst militant Islamist groups in the country could foil its chances of success.

"On the occasion of Adha Eid, we announce the halt of the military actions on the Syrian Arab territory as from Friday morning Oct 26 till Monday 29," the General Command of the Syrian Army said in a statement.

The command, however, left the door open for a quick end to the cease-fire.

"The Army would however keep the right to reply to any breach by the rebels in harmony with its responsibility to defend the civilians and the public and private properties," the command said.

Syria's army command said it would also respond to "terrorist groups trying to reinforce their positions by arming themselves and getting reinforcements," as well as neighboring countries facilitating the smuggling of fighters across borders during that period, Reuters reports.

The main armed rebel group, the Free Syrian Army (FSA), said any ceasefire observed by the government would be reciprocated.

However, the FSA's Gen. Mustafa al-Sheikh added: "It is impossible that the regime will implement the truce, even if it says it will."

Col. Abdul-Jabbar Akidi, considered by the U.S. government to be one of the most powerful military commanders in the Free Syrian Army, spoke to CBS News on Thursday about the expected holiday cease-fire, and said that Assad regime forces are gathering outside the hotly-contested city of Aleppo, where Akidi operates.

He said the Syrian army is bombarding the city and the surrounding towns, and the rebels have little trust for Assad's word. He added that rebels believe the Syrian army has never respected any promises made by Assad, and pointed out there are no neutral observers to monitor the cease-fire.

The conditions that the FSA accepted the cease-fire on were as follows: Release all prisoners from regime prisons, especially women; stop the siege of Homs and allowing military aid in; Cease all air attacks; refrain from reorganizing the regime forces on the ground and regrouping; and allow visitation to all people arrested in the regime prison.

Earlier, two of the major militant Islamist groups rejected the ceasefire.

In a statement posted on militant websites Wednesday, Jabhat al-Nusra -- a shadowy, high-profile group that's claimed several major bombings -- rejected the cease-fire, calling it a "filthy game" and saying it has no faith that President Bashar Assad's regime would respect the truce.

Additionally, a spokesman for Islamist Ansar al-Islam fighters said they are not committed to the ceasefire, and they doubt the Syrian army will honor it.

The FSA's Col. Akidi said that while the extremists near Aleppo might reject the cease-fire, if Syrian government forces respect it, the FSA will get the Islamists to respect it too.

Eid al-Adha, the Festival of the Sacrifice, commemorates the willingness of Abraham to sacrifice his son Ishmael as proof of obedience to God.

A truce -- if it were to hold -- would be the most important breakthrough since the conflict spread from localized clashes in March 2011 to engulf the entire country in a full-fledged civil war. The UN says more than 30,000 people have been killed thus far.

"If this humble initiative succeeds, we hope that we can build on it in order to discuss a longer and more effective ceasefire and this has to be part of a comprehensive political process," said U.N. mediator to the Syrian crisis Lakhdar Brahimi, who had crisscrossed the Middle East to push the warring factions and their international backers to agree to a truce - a mission that included talks with President Assad in Damascus over the weekend.

It was not known how a cease-fire could be enforced or even monitored independently, especially since the U.N. Security Council ordered the withdrawal of international observers last summer.

A previous ceasefire arrangement in April by Brahimi's predecessor Kofi Annan collapsed within days, with both sides accusing the other of breaking it.

On Wednesday, opposition activists and Syrian state media traded blame for the killing of at least 25 people, including women and children, in the town of Douma near Damascus.

On the way into a Security Council meeting on Wednesday, Russian and Chinese U.N. ambassadors said they hoped Brahimi's plan for a cease-fire during the Muslim holiday would be successful.

The United States and European council members blame Russia, a staunch ally and key arms supplier for Assad's government, and China for the Council's deadlock on the 19-month-long conflict. Moscow and Beijing have vetoed three resolutions condemning Assad and reject the idea of sanctioning his government.

The Associated Press reports the Obama administration is cautiously welcoming the possibility of a temporary cease-fire in Syria, saying it hopes calm might lead to political transition.

  • George Baghdadi

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