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Syria Cease-fire Holding Amid Scattered Clashes

Rebel fighters walk near damaged buildings in al-Rai town, northern Aleppo countryside, Syria, Dec. 30, 2016.

Human rights activists say at least one person has died in sniper fire in Syria, where a cease-fire went into effect early Friday.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said reliable sources had reported that a person was killed by sniper fire in Eastern Ghouta, while explosions were heard in the countryside outside Daraa city. The activists said shells had fallen on Khabab village.

The observatory said most of Syria was calm, but shelling was taking place in parts of Hama, Idlib and Wadi Barada in Rif Dimashq governorate. The activists said there had been clashes between regime forces and their militia supporters and militant factions in the area.

The observatory said Syrian government warplanes had carried out at least 16 airstrikes against rebels in northern Hama province Friday. Observatory head Rami Abdulrahman said it was unclear who had started the clashes.

"Clashes erupted and are continuing ... with helicopters firing on positions belonging to the opposition and Fateh al-Sham Front," he said, according to AFP, adding that the clashes were "a clear violation of the truce, but it is not clear which party is responsible for starting it."

Fateh al-Sham, previously known as the al-Nusra Front, is the former al-Qaida affiliate that the Syrian government said was excluded from the Turkey- and Russia-backed truce. But the opposition group has said it understands that the truce applies to all of Syria.

A rebel fighter rests with his weapons behind sandbags at insurgent-held al-Rashideen, Aleppo province, Syria, Dec. 30, 2016.
A rebel fighter rests with his weapons behind sandbags at insurgent-held al-Rashideen, Aleppo province, Syria, Dec. 30, 2016.

The Syrian National Coalition, the main Western- and Gulf-backed political opposition group, said it would abide by the truce but warned it would respond to cease-fire violations.

Much remains unclear about the nationwide Syrian cease-fire that Russian President Vladimir Putin announced Thursday — a truce that Moscow says can pave the way for Russian-brokered talks on a settlement of the five-year-long war.

But Turkey's participation gives the cease-fire added significance, say Western diplomats, who have been sidelined by the deal. Ankara can do much to strangle rebel militias that break the cease-fire, having the ability to block arms resupplies crossing its border.

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