US-Russia Clinch Syria Deal, Aim to End Ongoing Syrian Conflict
The United States and Russia hailed a breakthrough deal on Saturday to put Syria’s peace process back on track.
The United States and Russia hailed a breakthrough deal on Saturday to put Syria’s peace process back on track, including a nationwide truce effective from sundown on Monday, improved humanitarian aid access and joint military targeting of banned Islamist groups.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said that despite continuing mistrust, the two sides had developed five documents that would revive a failed truce agreed in February and enable military coordination between the US and Russia against militant groups in Syria.
Both sides agreed not to release the documents publicly.
The Obama administration, the United States, is going the extra mile here because we believe that Russia, and my colleague (Lavrov), have the ability to press the Assad regime to stop this conflict and to come to the table and make peace.Sergei Lavrov
Previous efforts to forge agreements to stop the fighting and deliver humanitarian aid to besieged communities in Syria have crumbled within weeks, with the United States accusing Assad’s forces of attacking opposition groups and civilians.
Kerry said the “bedrock” of the new deal was an agreement that the Syrian government would not fly combat missions in an agreed area on the pretext of hunting fighters from the banned Nusra Front, an al-Qaeda affiliate in Syria. He said only an end to indiscriminate bombing could end the conflict.
Under the agreement, Russian-backed government forces and opposition groups, supported by the United States and Gulf States, would halt fighting for a while as a confidence building measure.
During this time, opposition fighters will have the chance to separate from militant groups in areas, such as Aleppo, where they have become intermingled.
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If the truce holds from Monday, Russia and the United States will begin seven days of preparatory work to set up a “joint implementation centre”, where they will share information to delineate territory controlled by Nusra and opposition groups.
Both warring sides would pull back from the strategic Castello Road in Aleppo to create a demilitarised zone, while opposition and government groups would both have to provide safe and unhindered access via Ramouseh in the south of the city.
Kerry cautioned opposition fighters that if they did not separate from Nusra they would not be spared from air attacks.
Pentagon and US intelligence officials have spoken out against the idea of closer military cooperation with Russia, in particular the sharing of locations of opposition groups that have fought to topple Assad.
The Pentagon said in a statement it would carefully monitor the “preliminary understanding” agreed on Friday and cautioned the Assad regime and its backer, Russia, to stick to deal requirements.
The United States and Russia have backed opposite sides in Syria’s civil war, with few signs of an end in sight to more than five years of conflict, which killed more than 400,000 people and drove tens of thousands of refugees into Europe.
The United Nations said on Friday that the Syrian government had effectively stopped aid convoys this month and the besieged city of Aleppo was close to running out of fuel, making the talks even more urgent.
The UN special envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, welcomed the announcement, saying in a statement that it had provided “clear rules” for a cessation of hostilities and would allow warring sides to resume political talks on a transition.
(Published in an arrangement with Reuters. The story was edited for length.)
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