Death toll plummets in Syria following ceasefire

The death toll in areas of Syria outside jihadist control has fallen sharply since a ceasefire went into effect over the weekend, a monitoring group said on Monday.

Twenty people were killed on Saturday, the first day of the truce, in areas where the Islamic State (ISIS) extremist group is not present, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said. The same number of people were killed on Sunday, Observatory chief Rami Abdel Rahman said.

"To compare, 144 were killed – 70 soldiers, 36 civilians, and 38 rebels – on Friday, on the eve of the truce," Abdel Rahman told AFP.

The average daily death toll for February was 120, he added. In the two days since the ceasefire went into effect, the number of Syrians killed was down 83% from February’s average.

The tenuous ceasefire, negotiated by Washington and Moscow and backed by the UN, entered its third day on Monday despite reports of violations on both sides.

The UN chief said Monday the fragile Syria ceasefire was holding "by and large" despite "incidents" of fighting at the weekend, as a UN-backed taskforce was set to meet to evaluate accusations of breaches.

"As of now I can tell you that by and large the cessation of hostilities is holding even though we have experienced some incidents," United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon told reporters in Geneva.

The taskforce monitoring the truce is "now trying to make sure that this does not spread any further and that this cessation of hostilities can continue."

Even as the ceasefire appeared to holding, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg expressed concern over Russia's military buildup in Syria, where it has carried out a five-month bombing campaign in support of President Bashar al-Assad.

“We are concerned about the Russian military buildup we have seen in Syria," whether it is military or air force, he said.

The NATO chief said Russian air strikes had "mainly targeted" non-jihadist rebels rather than the Islamic State group, which has been targeted by a US-led coalition. He said the Western alliance had no plans to send ground troops to Syria as part of the campaign against the jihadists.

The complex truce deal does not apply to areas controlled by the Islamic State group or its jihadist rival, Al Qaeda, where air strikes and ground fighting have continued.  It is the first major break in the devastating five-year conflict and has been largely holding despite accusations of violations.

More than 270,000 people have been killed since the conflict erupted with anti-government protests in March 2011.

AFP contributed to this report.


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