Cease-fire takes effect in war-ravaged Syria

BEIRUT — A cease-fire brokered by Russia and Turkey went into effect in war-ravaged Syria at midnight Thursday, a potential breakthrough in the six years of fighting that have left more than a quarter-million people dead and triggered a refugee crisis across Europe.

If it holds, the truce between the Syrian government and the country’s mainstream rebel forces will be followed by peace talks next month in Kazakhstan, Russian President Vladimir Putin said in announcing the agreement. He described it, however, as “quite fragile” and requiring “special attention and patience.”

It was not immediately clear whether the truce — which excludes extremist factions such as the Islamic State group and al-Qaida affiliate in Syria — was holding. It is expected to at least reduce the violence that has gripped the country, including government airstrikes.

Opposition activist Mazen al-Shami told The Associated Press that half an hour before midnight, the situation became “very calm” in the suburbs of the capital Damascus.

He added that a government offensive on the rebel-held Barada Valley northwest of Damascus that had been going on for days had stopped.

The truce had the backing of both Russia and Turkey, which have been supporting opposing sides in the war, and was welcomed by Iran and the United Nations. Russia said the deal was signed by seven of Syria’s major rebel factions.

Several previous cease-fires all collapsed, some of them in a matter of days. Nevertheless, the deal this time raised hopes for a political settlement to the…

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