Earlier this month, the Syrian government and the Islamist coalition led by al-Qaeda’s Nusra Front had a 48-hour ceasefire covering a handful of towns, including Zabadani and several Idlib Province villages. The ceasefire held, and shortly into a third day before crumbling. Now, the two sides have announced a second ceasefire in the same towns and villages.
The deal this time began early Thursday morning, and the two sides reached the deal agreeing to allow the evacuation of wounded people from these areas to get treatment in more secure territory held by the respective factions. The new ceasefire was announced as another 48-hour deal but has since been extended to a third day.
The Syrian government doesn’t negotiate directly with al-Qaeda, but has rather talked with the relatively less extreme Ahrar al-Sham, another faction within the Islamist coalition that dominates the Idlib Province and has some territorial possessions elsewhere in the country.
Zabadani is their last holding in the area around the Lebanon border, and had been attacked off and on for months by Hezbollah. Hezbollah is also a party to this deal, so they are also holding their fire in the town to allow evacuations by the two sides.
A second ceasefire in the same month is a surprising turn, and suggests that the Syrian government is getting more comfortable dealing with this Islamist coalition. This may open the possibility of Syria’s government and rebels getting into a unity anti-ISIS coalition, or making some sort of settlement to end at least parts of the ongoing civil war.