Syria truce plan gets approval from main parties

The truce would come into force on Monday, the first day of Eid Al Adha, and if the ceasefire holds for a week, Moscow and Washington will begin air strikes against agreed terrorist targets.
John Kerry and Sergei Lavrov shake hands at the conclusion of their press conference following their meeting in Geneva where they discussed the crisis in Syria on September 9, 2016. The United State and Russia agreed a plan to impose a ceasefire in the Syrian civil war and lay the foundation of a peace process, US Secretary of State John Kerry said.

Kevin Lamarque / AFP
John Kerry and Sergei Lavrov shake hands at the conclusion of their press conference following their meeting in Geneva where they discussed the crisis in Syria on September 9, 2016. The United State and Russia agreed a plan to impose a ceasefire in the Syrian civil war and lay the foundation of a peace process, US Secretary of State John Kerry said. Kevin Lamarque / AFP

BEIRUT // Both sides in the Syrian war signalled approval on Saturday of a ceasefire deal brokered by Russia and America to end the fighting, but with more caution from the main opposition group.

The landmark deal, reached after marathon talks in Geneva on Friday, could also lead to the first joint military operations by Moscow and Washington against extremists.

But even as diplomats touted the agreement as a path to peace, a barrage of air strikes on the north-western city of Idlib killed 24 people and wounded dozens.

The UK-based monitoring group, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said it was not immediately clear who carried out the raids, and said some bodies “were burnt beyond recognition”.

The truce deal negotiated by US secretary of state John Kerry and Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov is set to enter into force on Monday, the first day of Eid Al Adha.

Syrian state news agency Sana reported that the “government has approved the agreement, and a cessation of hostilities will begin in Aleppo for humanitarian reasons”. Citing “informed sources”, Sana said “the entire agreement was reached with the knowledge of the Syrian government”.

However, the opposition High Negotiations Committee representing the Syrian opposition said it had yet to receive the “official text” of the agreement. Leading HNC member Bassma Kodmani said her group “cautiously welcomed” the deal but had doubts that Damascus would comply, saying, “We are waiting for Russia to persuade the regime that it is necessary to commit to this agreement.” But if the truce holds, the rebels would break ranks with the militants, she added.

“The moderate groups will reorganise and distance themselves from the radical groups. We will do our part,” she said.

Both Mr Kerry and Mr Lavrov said the complex plan was the best chance to end the five-year war that has killed around 400,000 people (by some estimates) and forced millions more to flee the country.

Under the deal, fighting would cease across Syria at sunset on Monday and the Syrian air force would stop attacking rebel-held areas. A “demilitarised zone” would be established around the Castello Road leading into Syria’s besieged second city, Aleppo, so desperately needed aid can be delivered.

In turn, Washington must persuade its allies among opposition groups to detach themselves from Jabhat Fatah Al Sham, which changed its name from Jabhat Al Nusra after renouncing ties to Al Qaeda in July.

If a cessation of hostilities holds for one week, the US and Russia – which back opposing sides in the war – could start joint operations against those extremists, with Moscow and Washington carrying out “anti-terrorist” strikes in pre-agreed zones..

Several sticking points remain, however. The first concerns the future of Syrian president Bashar Al Assad. The HNC insist he must go but Russia still backs him. The second concerns the willingness of mainstream opposition fighters to break off their alliance with powerful hardliners, which they see as “a military necessity”. For them Mr Kerry had this advice: “The warning we give to opposition groups who have until now found it convenient to work with them is it would not be wise to do so.”

There is also the fact that a truce brokered by the United Nations in February has been repeatedly broken by both sides.

The rebel-extremist alliance is most prevalent in Idlib province, scene of Saturday’s deadly air strikes on several parts of Idlib city, including a market, killing 24 and wounding at least 90.

The final hours of the US-Russia talks in Geneva dragged on as Mr Kerry consulted with the White House. But the night ended with him declaring the deal had the support of both governments. International backing soon followed. British foreign minister Boris Johnson welcomed the deal but said it was “vital that the regime in Damascus now delivers on its obligations”. The UN’s Syria envoy Staffan de Mistura said that the deal provided a “window of opportunity” and that he would begin consultations on a relaunch of peace talks. German foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said: “Everything now depends on rapid implementation.”

Crucially, the Kerry-Lavrov agreement also won approval from Turkey, which has become a key player in the conflict with its lightning offensive into northern Syria, involving dozens of tanks and hundreds of troops, to recapture Jarabulus from extremist control. The Turkish foreign minister Mevlut Cavusoglu telephoned both Mr Kerry and Mr Lavrov to assure them of support and later issued a statement welcoming the agreement and said Turkey was already preparing to deliver aid to Aleppo province.

* Agence France-Presse

Published: September 10, 2016 04:00 AM

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