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Syria army declares 48-hour truce in southern city

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Smoke rises from buildings following a reported air strike on a rebel-held area in the southern Syrian city of Daraa

AFP, Damascus :
Syria's army on Saturday declared a 48-hour ceasefire in the southern city of Daraa, bringing a cautious calm after days of heavy fighting.
In a statement, the army's general command said the truce went into effect at noon local time "in support of local reconciliation efforts".
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based monitor of the war, reported a cautious calm in the hours after the truce was announced.
Daraa is among the areas included in a plan for "de-escalation zones" agreed by regime backers Russia and Iran and rebel supporter Turkey earlier this year.
But recent weeks have seen heavy clashes in Daraa city and the surrounding area, with civilians among those caught in fighting and bombardment.
Rebels control around 60 percent of Daraa city, and the province as a whole is one of the last remaining bastions of opposition forces in the country.
In Washington, the US State Department said "we welcome any initiative to reduce tensions and violence in southern Syria". It urged Damascus "to live up to its own stated committment during this ceasefire initiative".
"The opposition should similarly halt attacks to allow the ceasefire to endure, and hopefully be extended," the statement added.
There was no immediate official confirmation that the opposition agreed to the truce but the quiet in the aftermath of the army announcement suggested hostilities had halted on both sides.
Syria's government has pursued a series of so-called "national reconciliation" agreements with rebels in different parts of the country, including recently near the capital. Under the deals, rebels who surrender are generally offered safe passage to opposition-held territory elsewhere in the country.
The opposition criticises the deals as a "starve or surrender" tactic, saying they are forced into the agreements after heavy regime bombardment or siege.
But the government has touted the deals as the best way to end the six-year war, which has killed more than 320,000 people since it began in March 2011.
Vienna report adds:   The United Nations special mediator for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, wants to start a fresh round of talks between Syrian factions on July 10, his office said on Saturday.
Since a resumption of negotiations last year, there have been multiple rounds brokered by the United Nations between representatives of Syrian rebels or the government of Bashar al-Assad, resulting in scant progress.
"(De Mistura) wishes to announce he will convene a seventh round of the intra-Syrian talks in Geneva. The target date for arrival of invitees is July 9, with the round beginning on July 10," it said in an emailed statement.
"He intends to convene further rounds of talks in August and in September."
De Mistura said earlier this week such talks would depend on the progress made in setting up "de-escalation" zones in Syria, where over six years of conflict have killed more than 400,000 people.
The Russian Foreign Ministry said on Tuesday that talks between Russia, Turkey and Iran to discuss these zones would take place in the Kazakh city of Astana in early July.
Russia and Iran back Assad against rebels supported by Western powers, while both sides, aided by Sunni powers such as Saudi Arabia, fight against ISIS terrorists.

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