Government, rebels sign up to nationwide cease-fire
Putin says truce deal opens door to peace talks as Russia agrees to reduce military deployment
Syrian government said on Thursday that it would halt all military operations from midnight, under a deal brokered by Russia and Turkey, with the opposition National Coalition announcing support for the agreement.
Earlier, Russia’s President Vladimir Putin announced the deal, saying the Syrian government and “main forces of the armed opposition” had signed on.
“Three documents have been signed. The first is a document between the Syrian government and armed opposition for a cease-fire on the territory of Syria,” Putin said at a meeting with his defense and foreign ministers.
“The second document is a set of measures to verify the cease-fire. The third document is an announcement of their readiness to start peace talks.”
Putin also said that Russia had agreed to reduce its military deployment in Syria.
Turkey and Russia will act as guarantors of the cease-fire, Turkey’s Foreign Ministry said on Thursday.
Talks on the cease-fire picked up momentum after Russia, Iran and Turkey last week said they were ready to back a deal and adopted a declaration setting out principles that any agreement should adhere to.
The United States has been sidelined in recent negotiations and is not due to attend the next round of peace talks in Astana, capital of Kazakhstan.
Its exclusion reflects growing frustration from both Turkey and Russia over Washington’s policy on Syria, officials have said.
However, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said the US could join the peace process once President-elect Donald Trump takes office.
Syria’s army confirmed the cease-fire in a statement carried on state television but added that the halt excluded combat against the Islamic State and the former al-Qaida affiliate previously known as al-Nusra Front, now rebranded the Fateh al-Sham Front.
Starts from midnight
The truce deal will go into effect from midnight, Russia’s Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said.
Shoigu said the rebel groups that have signed up to the cease-fire comprise some 62,000 fighters and that negotiations had been going on for two months to secure the truce.
Syria’s leading opposition National Coalition body, a political entity based in Turkey, confirmed its support for the truce.
“The National Coalition expresses support for the agreement and urges all parties to abide by it,” spokesman Ahmed Ramadan said.
He said key rebel groups including the powerful Ahrar al-Sham and Army of Islam factions had signed the ceasefire deal, though there was no immediate confirmation from rebel officials.
The agreement comes after Damascus recaptured the country’s second city Aleppo from rebels, in the worst blow to opposition forces.
The cease-fire will be the first nationwide halt in fighting since a weeklong truce from Sept 12-19 that collapsed after several incidents of violence.
A previous truce was implemented in February, with both of those deals organized by Russia and the US.
More than 310,000 people have been killed in Syria since the conflict began in March.