BEIRUT (Reuters) - Warring parties in Syria agreed local ceasefires in two Shi’ite villages in northwestern Syria and a town near the Lebanese border on Sunday, a group monitoring the war and the al-Manar TV station controlled by Lebanon’s Hezbollah reported.
It marks the third local ceasefire agreed in those areas since August, and follows a renewed offensive by insurgents against the two villages — al-Foua and Kefraya — since Friday. Both previous ceasefires collapsed.
The ceasefire came into effect 12 noon (0900 GMT), the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported. It did not say how long it was due to last. No clashes were reported after the ceasefire came into force, the Observatory said.
Al-Foua and Kefraya are being defended by pro-government militia supported by the Lebanese group Hezbollah. The border town included in the ceasefire — Zabadani — has meanwhile been targeted in a weeks-long offensive by the Syrian army and Hezbollah. They are seeking to capture it from rebels.
Rebels said the rebel-held town of Madaya, next to Zabadani which is also included in the ceasefire and where thousands of civilians have taken shelter, had witnessed heavy shelling overnight by the army in apparent retaliation against the offensive on the two Shi’ite villages.
The Observatory, which tracks the war via a network of sources on the ground, said at least 106 people had been killed in and around al-Foua and Kefraya since Friday.
On the insurgents’ side, the dead included at least 30 foreign fighters including jihadists from the Gulf, north Africa, central Asia and members of the Turkistan Islamic Party, said Rami Abdulrahman, directory of the Observatory.
The dead on the other side included at least 40 militiamen and seven civilians, he said. Abdulrahman said the insurgents including the al Qaeda-linked Nusra Front had seized two positions on the outskirts of al-Foua.
Al-Foua and Kefraya represent the two last pockets of Syrian government influence in the northwestern province of Idlib, though it is being defended by irregular militia rather than the army.
Reporting by Tom Perry in Beirut and Omar Fahmy in Cairo; Editing by Elaine Hardcastle and Mark Potter