Rus­sia, Turkey ‘agree’ on Syria cease­fire plan

Kuwait Times - - FRONT PAGE -

IS­TAN­BUL: Turk­ish state me­dia yes­ter­day said Turkey and Rus­sia had agreed a na­tion­wide truce plan for Syria but none of the key play­ers in the con­flict of­fered an im­me­di­ate con­fir­ma­tion. The staterun Anadolu news agency said the plan aims to ex­pand a cease­fire in the city of Aleppo - bro­kered by Turkey and Rus­sia ear­lier this month to al­low the evac­u­a­tion of civil­ians - to the whole coun­try. If suc­cess­ful, the plan would form the ba­sis of up­com­ing po­lit­i­cal ne­go­ti­a­tions be­tween the Da­m­as­cus regime and the op­po­si­tion, over­seen by Rus­sia and Turkey in the Kazakh cap­i­tal As­tana, it added.

But in a speech in Ankara af­ter the re­port was pub­lished, Pres­i­dent Re­cep Tayyip Er­do­gan made no ref­er­ence to the plan, while Krem­lin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said he could not an­swer on an is­sue “about which I don’t have enough in­for­ma­tion”. Mean­while, a Syr­ian rebel source, who asked not to be named, told AFP in Beirut that de­tails still had to be sub­mit­ted to op­po­si­tion fighters and said there was no agree­ment as yet. “The armed rev­o­lu­tion­ary fac­tions have not re­ceived any of­fi­cial pro­posal for a cease­fire in Syria,” Labib Nah­has, head of for­eign re­la­tions for the pow­er­ful Ahrar Al-Sham rebel group added on his of­fi­cial Twit­ter ac­count. “News talk­ing about their ap­proval of a cease­fire is in­cor­rect.”

An of­fi­cial from the High Ne­go­ti­a­tions Com­mit­tee which over­sees po­lit­i­cal talks of the Syr­ian rebels - said there was no in­for­ma­tion about a cease­fire so far. There was also no re­ac­tion from the Syr­ian regime. Anadolu said both sides were work­ing for the cease­fire to come into force at mid­night but gave no fur­ther de­tails on its im­ple­men­ta­tion. The re­port came af­ter Ankara hosted a suc­ces­sion of closed-door talks be­tween Rus­sia and Syr­ian op­po­si­tion rebels over the last weeks.

Qatar-based chan­nel Al-Jazeera said a new meet­ing is planned to­day in Ankara, this time be­tween mil­i­tary rep­re­sen­ta­tives of Syr­ian rebels and Rus­sia. Ankara and Moscow have been on op­pos­ing sides in the Syr­ian civil war, with Turkey seek­ing the ouster of Pres­i­dent Bashar Al-As­sad, who is backed by Rus­sia and Iran. But the two coun­tries have re­cently started to co­op­er­ate more closely on Syria, es­pe­cially af­ter a deal in the sum­mer to nor­mal­ize ties bat­tered by Turkey’s shoot­ing down of a Rus­sian war­plane last year.

Turkey re­mained con­spic­u­ously quiet as As­sad’s forces, backed by Rus­sia, took con­trol last week of Aleppo in the big­gest de­feat so far for the rebels in the civil war. No date has yet been set for the As­tana talks and Rus­sian for­eign min­istry spokes­woman Maria Zakharova said the meet­ing was still at the plan­ning stage. But the direct in­volve­ment of Turkey and Rus­sia comes as Er­do­gan is in­creas­ingly ex­press­ing im­pa­tience at the role of the United States in Syria. Pre­vi­ous cease­fire plans had been bro­kered by US Sec­re­tary of State John Kerry and Rus­sian coun­ter­part Sergei Lavrov. They met with only tem­po­rary suc­cess and failed to lead to a so­lu­tion for the con­flict. It re­mains un­clear how the lat­est cease­fire plan will ap­ply to Fateh Al-Sham, for­merly the Al-Qaeda af­fil­i­ate Al-Nusra Front, which has worked more closely with the rebels since chang­ing its name.

Er­do­gan had on Tues­day launched one of his most bit­ter at­tacks yet on US and West­ern pol­icy in Syria, which he said was marked by bro­ken prom­ises. He ac­cused the West of not just sup­port­ing Kur­dish mili­tia that Ankara re­gards as a “ter­ror group” but even Is­lamic State (IS) ji­hadists. The Turk­ish strong­man said the West was fail­ing to back Turkey’s own in­cur­sion in­side Syria in sup­port of pro-Ankara fighters to oust IS from the bor­der area, which has taken in­creas­ing ca­su­al­ties in re­cent weeks.

But in an an­gry state­ment, the US em­bassy in Ankara re­jected the “con­sid­er­able mis­in­for­ma­tion cir­cu­lat­ing in Turk­ish me­dia” about US op­er­a­tions against IS in Syria. “As­ser­tions the United States gov­ern­ment is sup­port­ing Daesh (IS) are not true,” it added. In con­tin­ued blood­shed, air strikes car­ried out by uniden­ti­fied air­craft killed at least 22 civil­ians, in­clud­ing 10 chil­dren, in a vil­lage held by IS in Deir Ez­zor prov­ince, the Syr­ian Ob­ser­va­tory for Hu­man Rights said. Syria’s con­flict be­gan in 2011 as an up­ris­ing against As­sad but quickly mor­phed into a civil war af­ter the regime un­leashed a bru­tal crack­down against dis­sent. The war has killed more than 310,000 peo­ple and forced mil­lions more to flee their homes.—

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