Po­ten­tial break­through in ru­inous six-year war

Cease-fire bro­kered by Rus­sia, Turkey will be fol­lowed by peace talks

The Denver Post - - NEWS - By Bassem Mroue and Vladimir Isachenkov

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.

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