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Syria Declares Limited Cease-fire Ahead of Peace Talks

The Syrian Army has declared a unilateral cease-fire in the south of the country until Thursday, ostensibly to support "reconciliation efforts."

The announcement Monday came a day before peace talks set to be held in Kazakhstan's capital, Astana. Hours later, however, Rebels and witnesses in the supposed cease-fire zone said Syrian government jets had resumed dropping barrel bombs - drums or cylinders packed with explosives and shrapnel - on rebel-held areas of the city of Daraa, in southwestern Syria at the border with Jordan, and other nearby areas.

Talk of a cease-fire was seen as an attempt by Syria and its Russian backers to persuade rebel groups to take part in peace talks due to resume Tuesday in Kazakhstan's capital, Astana. A large faction of rebels in southern Syria already has declined to send representatives to the Russian-sponsored talks, because the rebels contend the Damascus government has not observed previous cease-fire agreements.

Previous rounds of talks in Kazakhstan, convened in parallel with U.N.-brokered peace talks in Geneva, have not made substantial progress. A cease-fire declared in May, built around so-called "de-escalation zones," has been repeatedly violated.

Daraa has been a focus of Syrian airstrikes in recent months, as the Damascus government tries to regain full control of the city and sever the rebels' access to Jordan.

The Syrian army's statement Monday said: "In order to support the peace process and national reconciliation, a cessation of hostilities took hold at 12:00 p.m. on July 2 and will last until midnight on July 6."

In another development Monday, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres appointed a French legal expert and former judge to head the U.N. investigative body that will help document and prosecute the most serious violations of international law in Syria, including possible war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Guterres' choice, Catherine Marchi-Uhel, has been serving as ombudsperson for a Security Council committee monitoring sanctions against Islamic State militants and al-Qaida.

She previously was a judge in France, an international judge with the U.N. mission in Kosovo and also served at the Cambodia court prosecuting leaders of the Khmer Rouge. Marchi-Uhel also was senior legal officer at the international tribunal on war crimes in the former Yugoslavia, and worked in legal positions at the French foreign ministry.

The Syrian civil war has killed more than 320,000 people, according to U.N. estimates, and the world body has established a commission of inquiry to document cases of torture, summary killings and other atrocities by all sides in the conflict.

Source: Voice of America