Syrian peace shaken by anti-Assad protests in rebel-held areas

Overall violence is thought to have fallen by 90 per cent in the first five days of the truce

Protests have erupted in rebel-held Syria as residents seized on the calm brought by a fragile ceasefire to renew their calls for the downfall of President Bashar al-Assad.

Waving the rebel Syrian flag and shouting slogans that date back to the early days of the 2011 Syrian uprising, demonstrators took to the streets in opposition parts of Damascus, Aleppo, Homs and Daraa.

Firas Abdullah, an activist in the Douma, a suburb of the Syrian capital, said that the protest in his town was the biggest since 2012. “The message is that we are back with the peaceful revolution,” he told The Independent. “We didn’t give up.”

The leader of Syria’s official opposition delegation to UN peace talks struck a more pessimistic tone. Riad al-Hijab warned that the current conditions were “not suitable” for a resumption of negotiations planned for Wednesday – though he said it was too early to predict whether the opposition would stage a boycott.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group said that overall violence fell by 90 per cent in the first five days of the truce engineered by the US and Russia, which came into force on Saturday. Its director, Rami Abdurrahman, said that 118 people had died in areas included in the ceasefire. He said the violations were like “small waves that rock the boat but are not strong enough to capsize it.” 

However, Mr Hijab warned that the bloodshed was still too high and said Damascus had not adhered to a commitment to release detainees and allow adequate aid into rebel-held areas. He said the Syrian government and its allies had continued to attack civilians and, along with Kurdish forces, had taken advantage of the agreement to push on with operations to take rebel-held territory.

Amr al-Absi, a senior Isis leader, had been killed in an air strike in Syria, it has emerged.