Syrian cease-fire starts in southern provinces
BEIRUT — A cease-fire brokered by the United States, Russia and Jordan for southern Syria went into effect Sunday, the start of the first attempt at cooperation between Moscow and Washington since President Donald Trump took office in January.
The cease-fire, which began at noon Syrian time Sunday, covers three war-torn provinces in southern Syria.
Trump tweeted that the cease-fire “will save lives.”
“Now it is time to move forward in working constructively with Russia!” he posted on Twitter shortly after the agreement came into effect.
A resident and local opposition activist in Daraa, near the Jordanian border, reported an uneasy calm hours into the truce.
“There’s still a lot of anxiety,” said Ahmad al-Masalmeh. “We’ve entered the cease-fire but there are no mechanisms to enforce it. That’s what concerns people.”
Six years of fighting and siege have devastated Daraa, one of the first cities to see large protests against President Bashar Assad in 2011.
It remains contested by U.S.-backed rebels and Syrian government forces supported by Russia and Iran. Large swaths of the city have been reduced to rubble by government artillery and Russian air power.
In addition to Daraa province, the truce covers the Quneitra and Sweida provinces, where the government and the rebels are also fighting Islamic State militants, who are not included in the agreement.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which monitors the conflict through a network of on-the-ground activists, reported calm across the three provinces as dusk fell Sunday.
The cease-fire agreement came after weeks of secretive talks among the U.S., Russia and Jordan in Amman to address the buildup of Iranian-backed forces, in support of the Syrian government, near the Jordanian and Israeli borders.
Israel has repeatedly said it would not allow Iran, which is a close ally of the Syrian government, to set up a permanent presence in Syria. It has carried out a number of airstrikes in Syria against suspected shipments of “game-changing” weapons bound for Hezbollah in Lebanon.
It has also struck Syrian military installations on several occasions this year after shells landed in the Israeli-controlled side of the Golan Heights.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday that Israel would welcome a “genuine cease-fire” in southern Syria so long as it doesn’t enable Iran and its proxies to develop a military presence along the border.
The cease-fire does not affect the month-old fight for Raqqa, a city in north-central Syria held by the Islamic State extremist group. The conflict there is not between Syrians and rebels, but between U.S.backed Syrian Kurds known as the Syrian Democratic Forces and more than 2,000 Islamic State militants. Turkey — another U.S. ally — is also mobilizing to the north of Syria, but is threatening to launch an offensive against a Kurdish enclave.
The Kurds have encircled the militants in Raqqa and are preparing for urban fighting similar to Iraq’s battle to retake the city of Mosul.
“[Mosul] is actually a yearlong campaign. I don’t think Raqqa will take that long, but it will take time,” U.S. special envoy Brett McGurk told the Dubai-based Al-Aan TV during a visit to the Raqqa front last month. He refused to specify a timeline.
The Syrian government has vowed it will rule Raqqa if the Kurds win. The area’s Arab population is likely to oppose any control by the Kurds, though the U.S.-led coalition has said the Syrian city will be governed by a local council formed by the Syrian Democratic Forces.