Russia-brokered cease-fire brings halt to Syria fighting.
Assad, opposed by U.S., may stay in power
Russian-backed Syrian forces and anti-government rebels have laid down their arms as part of the latest cease-fire pact aimed at ending the six-year conflict in the war-torn nation.
The nationwide cease-fire, which went into effect at midnight Friday, was brokered by Russian and Turkish diplomats alongside representatives from Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime and moderate rebel forces battling to oust him from power. The U.S., which has backed the rebel forces and demanded Mr. Assad step down, was not present for the key negotiations, which followed major battlefield advances by the government.
The deal does not cover Islamic State forces, which claim the Syrian city of Raqqa as their de facto capital, or the formerly al Qaeda-affiliated Jabhat Fateh al-Sham extremist groups. Both remain targets of American and Turkish-led offensives in the country.
It is the third major cease-fire deal attempted by the international community in Syria. A U.S.-backed Syrian peace pact in September focused on ending the fighting in the former rebel stronghold in Aleppo, but fell apart within days after an airstrike destroyed a U.N. aid convoy heading into the besieged city.
But this month’s earlier cease-fire deal for Aleppo — also negotiated by Moscow and Ankara — has thus far held, with thousands of civilians and rebel fighters being evacuated from the battle-scarred city.
Furthermore, should the tenuous countrywide deal hold, Russia has agreed to host one-on-one talks between Mr. Assad and rebel leaders next month in Kazakhstan, The Associated Press reported.
Those talks, along with Moscow’s unwavering support for the regime, will likely ensure Mr. Assad will remain in power in a postwar Syria — something the Obama White House has vehemently opposed.
Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem welcomed the cease-fire agreement, saying there is a “real chance” for a political settlement, The Associated Press reported from Beirut.
He told Syrian TV that Damascus will attend the peace talks in the Kazakh capital of Astana “with an open mind,” but suggested it would not be willing to compromise on Mr. Assad’s fate.
“Everything is negotiable except national sovereignty and the people’s right to choose its leadership,” he said.
The U.N. special envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, welcomed the cease-fire announcement, telling the AP he hopes the agreement will save civilian lives, facilitate the delivery of humanitarian aid and pave the way for productive peace talks.
President-elect Donald Trump’s incoming administration has already expressed willingness to work more closely with Moscow on Syria, while questioning the wisdom of backing the divided and often shadowy rebel opposition forces. The ceasefire was announced just hours before President Obama authorized sweeping new sanctions against Russian intelligence agencies and officials for allegedly trying to hack into U.S. elections systems.
In a sign of the warming ties that helped produce the latest breakthrough, Moscow announced Thursday that Russian and Turkish commanders in Syria have established a “hotline” in order to monitor compliance with the deal, the AP reported.