A two-day ceasefire started on Thursday in the Syrian southern town of Zabadani near the Lebanese border and two villages in the northwestern province of Idlib, said the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
The ceasefire covered the opposition-controlled city of Zabadani, over which Assad regime forces along with Hezbollah militants have staged fierce battle to recapture, as well as two Shiite villages Al Foua and Kefraya that are located in Idlib province.
Thousands of shellings were conducted previously by opposition fighters in the regime-held outskirts of Shiite inhabited Al Foua and Kefraya as a response to the ongoing regime assault to civilians in Zabadani city.
"Implementation has started. There is calm in Kefraya, al Foua and Zabadani," Rami Abdulrahman, who runs the Observatory said.
It is the second ceasefire within a month in Kefraya, Al Foua and Zabadani. The truce started on Thursday at 6:00am (0300 GMT) for two days following negotiations between Ahrar al Sham, a prominent opposition group and Hezbollah militants who are supporting the Syrian regime forces since the war started in Syria.
The truce was intended to deliver aid to the residents of three towns. However, negotiations are still ongoing over the withdrawal of opposition fighters from Zabadani, and an evacuation of civilians from the Shiite villages, according to Reuters. The evacuation of the wounded in Zabadani and in both the Shiite villages will start on Friday, sources told Reuters.
Previously the same parties had agreed on a ceasefire in the same area on Aug. 12 , for two days after six weeks of heavy fighting in Zabadani by Hezbollah militants and Syrian regime forces. The fight was supported by heavy regime aerial bombardment against opposition groups including Ahrar al Sham, which controls parts of Zabadani.
The truce was preceded by negotiations in Istanbul, Turkey. Ahrar al Sham and Iranian mediators negotiated on behalf of Syrian regime, but the talks ended without any positive results due to disagreement on evacuation of rebels and civilians from Zabadani and other conditions.
One demand was that fighters of Ahrar al Sham, one of the opposition fighting factions, must relinquish their checkpoints in the area, board buses and leave the territory.
Battle for Zabadani
The city of Zabadani, over which Assad forces have long sought to gain control, is located near the Beirut-Damascus highway that connects both countries. Capturing it would be a major boost for Assad’s withering government.
Zabadani, 20 kilometres north of Syria’s capital Damascus, was captured by rebels in early 2012 and was once a bastion for the rebels. It has been besieged for more than a year by regime forces.
Regime forces backed by Hezbollah militants began a major campaign to take back the region in late 2013. In April 2014 the campaign gained momentum and regime forces were able to capture the ancient Christian town of Maalula.
On June 6, Syrian state media announced the start of an operation to retake the town by the Syrian army.
Capturing it would be a major boost for Assad’s withering government.
Zabadani, once a popular resort city, was part of a major supply route for weapons that were sent from Syria to Hezbollah militants before the outbreak of the Syrian conflict in 2011.
In recent months, the Lebanese Shiite Hezbollah militants increased its assaults on opposition outposts along the Qalamoun mountains region sprawling along the Lebanese-Syrian border in an effort to force opposition fighters to take a deal that would make them leave Zabadani without their weapons, reported the Asharq al Awsat newspaper.
Hezbollah is a prominent ally of the Syrian regime and has sent fighters to support regime forces against the uprising that began in March 2011.
The war in Syria started in 2011 in the form of anti-government demonstrations, but descended into a civil war between five main factions - the regime, the opposition, Al Qaeda affiliated Nusra Front, ISIS, and the Kurdish YPG militants.
Over four years of fighting has left over 230,000 Syrians dead, according to UN estimates.
More than 6.7 million are displaced internally while at least 5 million have fled the country to the neighbouring countries of Turkey, Lebanon, Egypt and Jordan.