JNN 05 May 2014 Damascus : The Syrian government and the rebels agreed to a ceasefire on Friday in the battleground city of Homs to allow hundreds of fighters holed up in its old quarters to evacuate in a deal that will bring the country’s third-largest city under the control of forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad.
If the agreement goes through and rebel fighters leave, the capture of the city will be a significant victory for Assad, weeks before the presidential election set for June 3.
On Friday, an Associated Press team in Homs said it was unusually quiet, with no shots fired from either side.
“This isn’t what we wanted,” Homs-based opposition activist Beibars Tilawi said of the ceasefire in a Skype interview with The Associated Press. “But it’s all we could get.”
News of the ceasefire deal was also reported by the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which monitors the conflict, and the Al-Manar TV network, as well as by the Lebanese channel Al-Mayadeen.
There was no immediate comment by Syrian officials.
The 48-hour truce began on Friday, said Homs-based activists Beibars Tilawi and Thaer Khalidiya and the Syrian Observatory. The Observatory receives its information from a network of activists on the ground.
Al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahri has ordered the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) terrorist group, which is waging war in Syria, to return to Iraq in a move meant to halt the bloody infighting among al-Qaeda-linked insurgent groups in the war-ravaged country.
Zawahri said in a video message that the Iraqi al-Qaeda’s entry into the Syrian war caused “a political disaster” for the militants there and called on ISIL to redouble its efforts in its terrorist campaign in Iraq instead, Al-Alam reported.
Zawahri has repeatedly tried to end infighting between the ISIL and another al-Qaeda-aligned terrorist group, the al- Nusra Front, but with no success.
He said in a Friday message translated by SITE Monitoring that ISIL must stop getting involved in Syria and instead work to “busy itself with Iraq, which needs double its efforts” to avoid the “waterfall of blood” caused by militant infighting.
ISIL insurgents entered the foreign-backed war in Syria last year and unilaterally declared that they were taking over the Nusra Front.
Zawahri, who has run al-Qaeda since Osama bin Laden was killed in April 2011, accused ISIL’s leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, of “sedition.”
Zawahri said Baghdadi should instead redouble his efforts against the Iraqi government, led by two-term Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.
The fighting broke out at the start of the year when several militant groups launched what appeared to be coordinated attacks on ISIL fighters, who have alienated many Syrians in the areas under their control.
On Wednesday the United States said al Qaeda’s core organization in Pakistan, led by Zawahri, had been severely degraded, but that the movement’s affiliates in Africa and the Middle East were becoming more autonomous and aggressive.
Twin bomb attacks kill 18 near Hama
Meanwhile, at least 18 people were killed and more than 50 injured in two bomb attacks in the suburbs of the Syrian city of Hama.
Syria’s official news agency SANA quoted a security source, speaking on condition of anonymity, as saying that a takfiri terrorist detonated a booby-trapped car in the town of al-Jibrin in the countryside outside of Hama, killing 17 civilians, including 11 children, on Friday.
Many houses in the town were also damaged in the deadly bombing, the official added.
According to the security source, another civilian lost his life in a similar terrorist attack carried out in the town of al-Hmairi, which is also located in the suburbs of Hama.
On April 29, at least 100 people, mostly civilians, were killed in terrorist attacks targeting the western city of Homs. The al-Qaeda-linked al-Nusra Front claimed responsibility for the attacks.
24 candidates register to run in presidential election
A total of 24 candidates officially registered to run in Syria’s upcoming presidential election before the registration deadline expired, a Syrian court said.
“At 3:00 p.m. [local time] (1200 GMT) on Thursday, May 1, 2014, the period for submitting presidential candidacy ended,” Adnan Zureiq, the head of Syria’s Supreme Constitutional Court, was quoted as saying on state media.
The Syrian judicial official added that the court had received a total of “24 requests for candidacy for the post of Syrian president,” saying that it would start studying the requests on Friday.
The top court has five days to decide which hopefuls qualify to run for president and announce the results.
Zureiq also said the People’s Assembly of Syria has been notified about all the 24 applications.
According to Syria’s electoral law, each presidential candidate must receive the approval of at least 35 of the 250 MPs of the People’s Assembly to have his or her name placed on the ballot.
Assad also registered to run in the June 3 presidential election, saying he will seek another seven-year term in office.
The Syrian government has insisted that it will hold the election, despite the foreign-backed insurgency that has plagued the country for more than three years.
On April 26, Syria dismissed the remarks by the West and the opposition about the presidential election, saying it is planning to hold a free and transparent poll.