Syr­ian cease-fire starts in south­ern prov­inces

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - NATIONAL - PHILIP ISSA In­for­ma­tion for this ar­ti­cle was con­trib­uted by Sarah El Deeb of The As­so­ci­ated Press.

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.

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