U.N. en­dorses Syria truce bro­kered by U.S., Rus­sia

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - NATIONAL - In­for­ma­tion for this ar­ti­cle was con­trib­uted by Karin Laub and Josef Fe­d­er­man of The Associated Press.

DAMASCUS, Syria — The United Na­tions on Satur­day wel­comed the agree­ment struck be­tween the United States and Rus­sia for a cease­fire in south­west Syria, say­ing a pause in fight­ing would sup­port up­com­ing peace talks.

The U.N.’s deputy spe­cial en­voy to Syria, Ramzy Ramzy, said he hopes the agree­ment an­nounced a day ear­lier in Hamburg, Ger­many, will lead to sim­i­lar ar­range­ments else­where in Syria to re­duce the vi­o­lence.

“The U.N. is al­ways seek­ing to re­duce ten­sion and es­ca­la­tion in fight­ing, and I think this is a step in the right di­rec­tion,” he told re­porters in Damascus. “All this is ob­vi­ously sup­port for the po­lit­i­cal process.”

The cease-fire goes into ef­fect to­day at noon Damascus time, with no end date, ac­cord­ing to U.S. of­fi­cials and the Jor­da­nian gov­ern­ment, which is also in­volved in the deal. Rus­sian of­fi­cials said Rus­sian mil­i­tary po­lice would mon­i­tor the new truce, but U.S. of­fi­cials said the de­tails were still un­der dis­cus­sion.

Ear­lier in the week, Syria’s mil­i­tary said it was halt­ing com­bat op­er­a­tions in the south­ern prov­inces of Daraa, Quneitra and Sweida for four days, in ad­vance of a new round of Rus­sian-spon­sored talks in Kaza­khstan. The Syr­ian gov­ern­ment tem­po­rar­ily ex­tended the uni­lat­eral cease­fire.

Syr­ian op­po­si­tion ac­tivists re­ported low-level vi­o­lence in Daraa on Satur­day, af­ter weeks of in­tense fight­ing in the di­vided prov­ince. Nabaa me­dia and the Bri­tain-based Syr­ian Ob­ser­va­tory for Hu­man Rights said a woman was killed when gov­ern­ment helicopters dropped bar­rel bombs on a vil­lage in north­east­ern Daraa. The Ob­ser­va­tory said a to­tal of 16 such bombs were dropped in the area, wound­ing sev­eral peo­ple.

The U.S.-Rus­sia truce should help al­lay grow­ing con­cerns by Syria neigh­bors Jor­dan and Is­rael about Ira­nian mil­i­tary am­bi­tions in the area, in­clud­ing fears that Tehran plans to set up a dis­rup­tive long-term pres­ence there, of­fi­cials said.

Such ap­pre­hen­sions were stoked by re­cent move­ments of Shi­ite Mus­lim mili­tias — loyal to Iran and fight­ing along­side Syr­ian gov­ern­ment forces — to­ward Jor­dan’s bor­der with Syria, and to an­other strate­gic area in the south­east, close to where the two coun­tries meet Iraq.

The ad­vances are part of Syr­ian Pres­i­dent Bashar As­sad’s push to re­gain ter­ri­tory from rebel groups, some backed by the West, in Daraa and from Is­lamic State ex­trem­ists in the south­east, near the tri­an­gle with Iraq.

But Syria’s neigh­bors have said they sus­pect that Iran is pur­su­ing a broader agenda, in­clud­ing carv­ing out a land route through Syria that would cre­ate a ter­ri­to­rial con­tin­uum from Iran and Iraq to Le­banon.

The cease-fire is meant to keep all forces pinned to their cur­rent po­si­tions, the Jor­da­nian gov­ern­ment said. This would pre­vent fur­ther ad­vances by forces un­der Iran’s com­mand, in­clud­ing Le­banon’s Hezbol­lah mili­tia.

The truce is to be mon­i­tored through satel­lite and drone images as well as ob­servers on the ground, a se­nior Jor­da­nian of­fi­cial said Satur­day, speak­ing on con­di­tion of anonymity be­cause he was not au­tho­rized to dis­cuss de­tails with re­porters.

In­for­ma­tion on truce com­pli­ance could be shared and dis­cussed in dif­fer­ent lo­ca­tions, in­clud­ing Jor­dan, the of­fi­cial said. Is­rael did not par­tic­i­pate in the truce talks, but was pre­sum­ably briefed by the U.S., the Jor­da­nian of­fi­cial said.

Is­rael is ex­pected to watch for truce vi­o­la­tions, as it has re­peat­edly said it will not al­low Iran to set up a per­ma­nent pres­ence in Syria. Is­rael has car­ried out a num­ber of airstrikes in Syria against sus­pected ship­ments of “game-chang­ing” weapons bound for Hezbol­lah.

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