The Syrian Army announced Monday that it would suspend all combat operations in Syria's southern regions for five days in support of what it calls “reconciliation efforts” during this week's round of peace talks in the Kazakh capital of Astana.
“In order to support the peace process and the national reconciliations, the hostilities in the southern region (Daraa, Quneitra and Sweida) have been halted as of (Monday) at noon and until (Thursday) at midnight,” the General Command of the Army and Armed Forces said in a statement, adding that “any breach of the unilateral cessation of hostilities will be responded to appropriately.” The unilateral freeze will not extend to the fight against the Islamic State group.
The latest announcement for the first time extends the cease-fire to the whole of southern Syria, including Sweida province in the southeast and the southwestern Quneitra province near the border with the Israeli occupation of the Golan Heights.
The extension of the cease-fire comes after the Western-backed Free Syrian Army coalition the Southern Front announced its refusal to participate in the fifth round of peace talks in Astana which will take place Tuesday and Wednesday. During the last round of talks in Astana, a deal was brokered between Russia, Turkey and Iran for the establishment of de-escalation zones in Syrian areas held by the foreign-backed opposition.
In recent weeks, Israeli forces have attacked Syrian military targets several times in response to alleged errant shells landing in the Israeli-controlled section of the Golan Heights. The aggressive series of Israeli attacks on Syrian targets has coincided with a unified anti-government campaign named “Operations of the Army of Muhammed” led by rebranded al-Qaida affiliate the Levant Liberation Committee, formerly known as Jabhat al-Nusra.
Damascus has pointed to the fact that the Israeli military has aided Islamist extremist groups, a fact admitted last week by Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon following the same admission by the Quneitra-based Fursan al-Joulan in a report by the Wall Street Journal. Israeli occupying forces have established field hospitals to aid the rebels, in addition to financing the group's salaries, weapons and ammunition.