Potential breakthrough in ruinous six-year war
Cease-fire brokered by Russia, Turkey will be followed by peace talks
beirut» Syria and its chief ally Russia reached a cease-fire agreement with Syria’s mainstream rebel fighters Thursday, a potential breakthrough in the six-year civil war that has left more than a quarter-million people dead and triggered a refugee crisis across Europe.
The nationwide truce, set to begin at midnight local time, was brokered by both Russia and Turkey, which support opposing sides in the war, and was confirmed by a Syrian opposition spokesman, who said most major rebel groups would abide by it.
If it holds, the cease-fire will be followed by peace talks next month in Kazakhstan between Syrian President Bashar Assad’s government and opposition groups, Russian President Vladimir Putin said.
The truce does not include the Islamic State group or al-Qaeda’s branch in Syria. And several previous cease-fires all collapsed, some of them in a matter of days.
Nevertheless, the deal raised hopes that a political settlement for a ruinous war that has generally defied all attempts at resolution could be reached in the coming months, in part because the landscape has significantly shifted recently.
Thursday’s announcement comes days after the Syrian government recaptured Aleppo from rebels who had held the eastern part of the city for more than four years. Not only has the balance of power tilted in favor of Assad, but Turkey, which is fighting Kurdish and Islamic militants at home, appears more willing to strike a bargain with Russia if it means protecting its borders.
“This is a different political scene, and one would expect some outcomes to emerge,” said Hilal Khashan, political science professor at the American University of Beirut. He cautioned, however, against expecting immediate results from the first round of talks.
Putin said the cease-fire will be guaranteed by Moscow — Assad’s chief patron and battlefield ally — and by Turkey. Turkey is a main backer of the opposition forces, who use the country’s long border with Syria to cross back and forth, and has wide influence on them. The agreement was also praised by Iran, one of Assad’s strongest backers.