Russia and US to collaborate on Syrian ceasefire

23 Feb 16

Russia and the US have reached a new deal to enforce a ceasefire in Syria from 27 February, subject to agreement between warring parties.

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Young Syrian refugee at Turkish border

Young Syrian refugee at Turkish border

 

The deal, which will again exclude Islamic State, al-Nursra Front and other groups deemed to be terrorists, differs from previous failed agreements because Russia and the US will act as direct guarantors and monitors of the cessation of hostilities.

United Nations secretary general Ban Ki-Moon welcomed the deal as “long-awaited signal of hope” that five years of brutal conflict in Syria could finally come to an end, and urged all parties to abide by the terms of the agreement and “remain steadfast in their resolve”.

In a joint statement released yesterday Russia and the US said that, provided all parties indicate their acceptance of the agreement by noon the day before, fighting would cease at midnight on 27 February Damascus time.

The two countries will have to coordinate closely and frequently to define the territories subject to the ceasefire and ensure they not subject to any kind of attack, including aerial bombing – a difficult feat in a complex and fluid war where the front lines are often redrawn.

Any violations of the ceasefire, either deliberate or inadvertent, will be reported on a hotline to a special taskforce co-chaired by Russia and the US, which will then have the power to deem a group no longer party to the agreement.

All parties to the ceasefire must agree to stop using weapons and attempting to gain territory, allow rapid, safe and unhindered access for aid flows in areas under their control and work for the early release of detainees, in particular women and children.

Germany’s foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmieier said an end to the violence is now closer than it has been in years.

“Each of the Vienna process powers must be aware of what is at stake,” he continued. “Any parties to the conflict that does not adhere to the ceasefire ... must expect a united and resolute action by the international community.

“It would be an urgently needed success and genuine glimmer of hope for the people in Syria if diplomatic perseverance, tenacity and patient negotiating finally paid off.”

But following in the wake of a host of failed agreements, including a ceasefire abandoned just last week as Russia’s airstrikes continued and perhaps even intensified just as a plan to end the fighting was supposed to come into force, all are conscious of the fragility of the deal and have called for its unwavering implementation by all parties.

Last week’s ceasefire was also marred by two deadly bombings in Homs and Damascus that killed more than 150 people and wounded more than 200 – the attacks were claimed by Islamic State.

Some Syrian opposition groups have noted that excluding terrorist groups from the ceasefire, in particular al-Nusra Front, is problematic, because the group is present in Aleppo and Damascus, potentially exempting the large opposition-held cities from the ceasefire.

The Assad regime, backed by Russia, consider all opposition groups to be terrorists.

If successful, the talks will strengthen the basis for plans by UN special envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, to resume peace talks between warring parties this week

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