Syria ceasefire, backed by Russia and Turkey, holds after initial clashes

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A nationwide ceasefire in Syria, brokered by Russia and Turkey which back opposing sides in the conflict, appeared to hold early on Friday after a shaky start during the night in the latest attempt to end nearly six years of bloodshed.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, a key ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, announced the ceasefire on Thursday after forging the agreement with Turkey, a longtime backer of the opposition.

Monitors and a rebel official reported clashes almost immediately after the truce took force at midnight (5.00 p.m. ET on Thursday) between insurgents and government forces along the provincial boundary between Idlib and Hama, and isolated incidents of gunfire further south. Hours later calm prevailed in areas included in the deal, they said.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said the United States could join the peace process once President-elect Donald Trump takes office on Jan. 20. He also wanted Egypt to join, together with Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Iraq, Jordan and the United Nations.

A number of rebel groups have signed the agreement, Russia’s Defense Ministry said. Several rebel officials acknowledged the deal, and a spokesman for the Free Syrian Army (FSA), a loose alliance of insurgent groups, said it would abide by the truce.

One FSA commander was optimistic about the truce deal, the third serious attempt at a nationwide ceasefire this year.

“This time I have confidence in its seriousness. There is new international input,” Colonel Fares al-Bayoush said without elaborating.

Syria’s civil war, which began when a peaceful uprising descended into violence in 2011, has resulted in more than 300,000 deaths and displaced more than 11 million people, half its pre-war population.

The ceasefire, in the waning days of U.S. President Barack Obama’s administration, was the first major international diplomatic initiative in the Middle East in decades not to involve the United States.

PREVIOUS COLLAPSES

The previous two Syria ceasefires, brokered by Cold War foes Washington and Moscow, took effect in February and September but both collapsed within weeks as warring sides accused each other of truce violations and fighting intensified.

Putin said the parties were also prepared to start peace talks intended to take place in Astana, the capital of Kazakhstan. Syrian state media said late on Thursday those talks would take place “soon”.

The Syrian government will be negotiating from a strong position after its army and their allies, including Shi’ite militias supported by Iran, along with Russian air power, routed rebels in their last major urban stronghold of Aleppo this month.

Moscow’s air campaign since September last year has turned the civil war in Assad’s favor, and the last rebels left Aleppo for areas that are still under rebel control to the west of the city, including the province of Idlib.

The ceasefire will have to hold before talks can take place.

Source: Reuters

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