People attend a celebration for the International Day of Peace in Damascus, capital of Syria, Sept. 21, 2018. Thousands of Syrians on Friday took part in activities, including a nationwide marathon, marking the International Day of Peace as the country's more than seven-year-long war is winding down. The International Day of Peace is celebrated on Sept. 21. (Xinhua/Ammar Safarjalani)
DAMASCUS, Sept. 21 (Xinhua) -- Thousands of Syrians took part in a nationwide marathon on Friday, marking the International Day of Peace as the country's more than seven-year-long war is winding down.
The participants took part in the marathon, which is dubbed the Syrian Marathon for Peace, in the capital Damascus, the coastal cities of Latakia and Tartus as well as the northern city of Aleppo, the central cities of Homs and Hama as well as the southern city of Sweida.
The participants ran for about two kilometers inside Damascus from the Mazzeh highway to the Umayyad Square, which is the main square in Damascus.
Siham Dabousiyeh, a 23-year-old university student, told Xinhua that the marathon aims at delivering a message to the world that the Syrian war is coming to an end soon through the love and rationality of its people.
"I came here today because I wanted to celebrate the peace day now that our city has become completely safe after seven years of war," she said.
Her friend, Randa, said she is happy such an international day is being held in Damascus now that the Syrians are yarning for peace after the long-standing war.
"I hope we can run next year and celebrate the full return of peace to all of Syria," she said.
For his side, Maher Ashqar, a 30-year-old accountant, said that the Syrians have been trapped in the atmosphere of war for a long time and now it's the time to celebrate.
"We have been struck in this war for a long time and today we feel free of the shackles of war and that's why we are celebrating peace," he said.
The participants wore white shirt, as the white is the symbol of peace.
The peace day is marked in Syria this year as the situation has largely improved in major Syrian cities as the Syrian army has retrieved most of the rebel-held areas with the help of allies such as Russia and Iran.
The Syrian army had been preparing for a wide-scale offensive against the last major rebels' stronghold in the northwestern province of Idlib, but a Russian-Turkish deal put this offensive on hold for the time being.
The Russian-Turkish deal was reached earlier this week between Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan about the need to establish a demilitarized zone between the Syrian forces and the rebels in Idlib province.
During a joint press conference with Erdogan, Putin said that the demilitarization zone will be established by Oct. 15. It will be created along the contact line of the armed opposition and the government forces with a depth of 15-20 km.
The radical rebels will withdraw from the demilitarized zone along with heavy weapons.
The deal came after negotiations between the Russian and Turkish sides, as the Syrian army was preparing to launch an all-out offensive to rid Idlib of the ultra-radical groups, which stood against the government's reconciliation offers such as the al-Qaida-linked Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), or the Levant Liberation Committee.
The Syrian army has been sending reinforcement to the frontline areas around Idlib as part of preparations to launch a wide-scale offensive to retake Idlib, where three million civilians live along with an estimated number of up to 50,000 rebels, including al-Qaida-linked ones.
The Syrian Foreign Ministry said in a statement that the Syrian government welcomes the deal.
Syria's Assistant Foreign Minister Ayman Soussan told Xinhua in an interview Thursday that deal for creating a demilitarized zone in Idlib is a temporary one and should end with ridding Idlib of terrorism.
He reiterated that the Syrian government will wrest full control over Syria, adding that the presence of foreign forces without Damascus' consent is unacceptable.