Syria ceasefire holding 'by and large' despite 'incidents': UN chief

French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault (left) shakes hands with United Nations Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura at the UN European headquarters in Geneva on Feb 29, 2016.
French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault (left) shakes hands with United Nations Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura at the UN European headquarters in Geneva on Feb 29, 2016.PHOTO: REUTERS

GENEVA (AFP) - The UN chief said Monday (Feb 29) a 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 various 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 Genera 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." That taskforce would meet at 3pm (1400 GMT), the top UN envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, told AFP.

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

The special international task force co-chaired by the United States and Russia last met on Saturday, just hours after the cessation of hostilities began.

It is one of several mechanisms in place to oversee and deal with violations of the agreement, which does not apply to territory held by the Islamic State group and Al-Qaeda affiliate Al-Nusra Front.

A range of operation centres around the world are collecting "information on infringements", de Mistura told reporters overnight to Saturday as the ceasefire began.

The halt in hostilities is meanwhile expected to allow aid workers to deliver assistance to an extra 154,000 people living in besieged areas over the next five days.

De Mistura aims to relaunch stalled peace negotiations next Monday if the ceasefire lasts and more aid is delivered.

On Monday, the UN envoy said he remained optimistic that talks can begin on March 7 as planned "but of course it will depend how the ceasefire, the cessation of hostilities holds", as well as the delivery of humanitarian aid.

Since the ceasefire, the death toll in areas of Syria outside ISIS control has fallen sharply, a monitoring group said.

Twenty people were killed on Saturday, the first day of the truce, in areas where the Islamic State 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.

The complex truce deal does not apply to areas controlled by the Islamic State group or its 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.