BEIRUT (Reuters) - Warplanes believed to be Russian carried out several air strikes on Wednesday on areas of northwestern Syria that were included in a local ceasefire agreed by warring sides in September, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
The strikes hit the outskirts of the towns of Maarat Masrin and Ram Hamdan in Idlib province, the Observatory said, in the first such incident in the area since the ceasefire came into effect in late September.
Insurgents retaliated by shelling areas of two nearby Syrian government-held villages, al-Foua and Kefraya, in retaliation, the Observatory said.
The ceasefire has largely held despite minor, isolated violations, including an exchange of fire just days after it took effect.
It was unclear whether Wednesday’s bombing would threaten a collapse of the truce or if it was another tit-for-tat incident.
Agreed on in talks backed by Iran, which supports the Syrian government, and Turkey, which supports the rebels, the ceasefire has been a rare success for foreign diplomacy in the intractable four-year civil war.
The ceasefire centers on al-Foua and Kefraya in Idlib, and on the town of Zabadani in Syria’s southwest near the border with Lebanon.
Al-Foua and Kefraya are held by forces loyal to the government, but are under rebel siege. Zabadani, where rebel fighters are holed up, is besieged by forces loyal to the government.
The deal, to be implemented over six months, includes the safe withdrawal of rebel fighters from Zabadani, and the evacuation of civilians from the two Idlib villages.
Two rebel fighters were evacuated from Zabadani in September in the first sign the ceasefire agreement was being implemented. Trucks loaded with humanitarian aid entered Zabadani, al-Foua and Kefraya last month.
Reporting by John Davison; editing by Dominic Evans and Gareth Jones