Two-day ceasefire in three Syrian towns begins

The ceasefire between the Syrian insurgents, Assad regime forces and allies Hezbollah and took effect earlier this morning

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Syrian insurgents, the Syrian army and Lebanese group Hezbollah agreed on a 48-hour ceasefire in the rebel-held town of Zabadani near Lebanon's border and two Shi'ite villages in Idlib province, sources close to negotiations on both sides said.

The ceasefire would begin Thursday at 6 a.m. (0300 GMT), the two sources said.

A similar ceasefire this month in the same areas, organised with help from Iran and Turkey, broke down even after a brief extension, and fighting has raged since.

A fighter on the side of government forces in Zabadani said clashes had intensified prior to the latest planned ceasefire.

The previous ceasefire, which began Aug. 12, was intended to give a chance for negotiations aimed at a more lasting cessation of hostilities in both areas.

Iran and Turkey back the Syrian government and insurgents, respectively.

That ceasefire also aimed to secure the withdrawal of rebel fighters from Zabadani and of citizens from the two villages.

Ahrar al-Sham, an insurgent group involved in negotiations, blamed the failure of that round of talks on the Iranian delegation with which it was negotiating, saying it was trying to effectively exchange one area for another.

Zabadani has been the focus of an offensive by Hezbollah and the Syrian army against insurgent groups holed up there. The area is of crucial importance to President Bashar al-Assad because of its proximity to Damascus and the Lebanese border.

Insurgent groups have in turn launched attacks on the two Shi'ite villages in the northwestern province of Idlib, an area bordering Turkey that is mostly insurgent-controlled after a series of advances against the army this year.

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