Syria: fragile US-Russia ceasefire deal divides warring factions

Syria-fragile-US-Russia-ceasefire-deal-divides-warring-factions

A US-Russia deal over a ceasefire in Syria has been cautiously welcomed by world leaders and the conflict-torn country’s main opposition but dismissed by one of the largest rebel armies in the region.

The deal, announced by John Kerry, the US secretary of state, and his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, should lead to a joint US-Russian air campaign against Islamic State, as well as new negotiations on the political future of Syria.

After 13 hours of talks in Geneva and a tense wait while Kerry consulted others in a call to Washington, both he and Lavrov were cautious in describing the deal but said it was a possible turning point after more than five years of a brutal war that has killed more than 400,000 people.

No one is building this based on trust, Kerry said. It is based on oversight, compliance, mutual interest. This is an opportunity, and not more than that until it becomes a reality.

Lavrov described the situation in Syria as a quagmire of multiple warring parties, some of which would seek to undermine the deal. For that reason, he said, much of the detail would remain secret to prevent efforts at sabotage. But the foreign minister said Russia had secured the agreement of Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Damascus.

As violence continued on Saturday, Syria’s mainstream opposition welcomed the proposed deal, saying the ceasefire could eventually end the suffering of civilians.

Bassma Kodmani, a spokeswoman for the opposition High Negotiations Committee (HNC), said the body welcomed the deal if it is going to be enforced. In a statement, she said the onus was on Russia because its influence was the only way to get the regime to comply.

But the moderate rebels of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) said they saw little chance of the deal succeeding because Damascus and Moscow would not abide by it. Fares al-Bayoush, the head of an FSA group called the Northern Division, said the Russian and Syrian government had not observed the last agreement, and the chances of the new deal succeeding were the same as the last.

Capt Abdul Salam Abdul Razak, a military spokesman for the rebel Nour al-Din al-Zinki brigades, said the deal would only give the Syrian military a chance to gather forces and pour more Iranian-backed militias into the main battles raging in Aleppo.

The British foreign secretary, Boris Johnson, welcomed the agreement but said broken promises had been heard before.

I call on all parties to the Syria conflict and all countries with influence upon them to do what is needed to end violence and lift sieges, he said. In particular, it’s vital that the regime in Damascus now delivers on its obligations, and I call on Russia to use all its influence to ensure this happens. They will be judged by their actions alone.

I hope this agreement will begin to unlock the flow of desperately needed aid to Syria’s people, particularly in and around Aleppo, and that it will create the necessary space for a credible political process based on the Geneva communique.

Johnson’s call for emergency supplies to be allowed into the region comes after more than 70 aid groups suspended cooperation with the UN in Syria. They demanded an immediate investigation into its operations in the country amid concerns Assad had gained significant and substantial influence over the relief effort.

The ultimatumwas the culmination of months of frustration about the delivery of aid to besieged areas of the country, and mounting concern over the UN’s strategy – criticism the UN maintains is unfair.

The Guardian revealed the UN has awarded contracts worth tens of millions of dollars to people closely associated with Assad, including businesspeople whose companies are under US and EU sanctions.

As part of the complex US-Russia deal, a seven-day pause in the fighting would begin on Monday evening, the beginning of the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha. During that time, the Syrian army would relax its stranglehold on rebel-held areas of Aleppo, allowing humanitarian aid to be delivered to the starving city, while rebels would stop fighting around government areas.

The Syrian regime would also suspend airstrikes, the main cause of civilian deaths, on rebel-held areas around the country.

If the ceasefire holds, the Russian and US military would start planning joint air operations against extremist groups, including Isis and al-Nusra Front (also referred to as the Front for the Conquest of Syria). The Syrian air force would stay out of zones being targeted by the US and Russia. The US is also aiming to convince other rebel groups to separate themselves from al-Nusra Front where they have been fighting the regime together.

Today the United States and Russia are announcing a plan which we hope will reduce violence, reduce suffering and resume movement toward a negotiated peace and a transition in Syria … that, if followed, has the ability to provide a turning point, a moment of change, Kerry said.

Lavrov said he hoped the ceasefire would lead to the prompt resumption of negotiations over Syria’s political future. Kerry said he had been in contact with the opposition groups in the HNC during the week and they were prepared to take part in such talks if the ceasefire held and humanitarian aid was delivered to besieged civilians.

Staffan de Mistura, the UN’s special envoy for Syria, called the agreement a window of opportunity and said he would consult the UN secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, on the timing of new political negotiations.

The Turkish foreign ministry welcomed the deal and said the country, which has sent dozens of tanks and hundreds of troops into Syria, was already making preparations for the delivery of humanitarian aid.

The ministry said in a statement it was essential that fighting was halted across Syria and humanitarian aid reached those in need from the first day of the ceasefire.

The statement said President Recep Tayyip Erdo?an had closely followed the process to secure the ceasefire.

Delineating the zones deemed to be controlled by al-Nusra Front was one of the thorniest issues in the negotiations, as the extremist group has fought with a range of other rebel organisations on different fronts in western Syria. Disentangling them from their allies on the ground will be one of the biggest challenges of maintaining the ceasefire deal.

Hours after the ceasefire deal was reached, Syrian government warplanes continued to bombard rebel-held areas around the country and insurgents shelled government-held neighbourhoods in violence that left dozens killed or wounded.

The air raids were mostly in the northern provinces of Idlib and Aleppo. Aleppo has been the center of violence in Syria in recent months where some 2,200 people, including some 700 civilians, have been killed since last July according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which tracks violence in Syria. The Observatory and the local coordination committees also reported an airstrike in the Damascus suburb of Douma where the dead included four children.

The Observatory said the deadliest airstrike occurred in the north-western city of Idlib and struck near the main market, killing 24 people and wounding dozens. The LCC said the airstrikes were carried out by Russian warplanes, adding that they left a number of civilians dead or wounded.

State TV said insurgents shelled government-held neighbourhoods in Aleppo, killing one and wounding others. The channel also reported shelling by the Islamic State group on a government-held neighbourhood in the eastern city of Deir el-Zour, saying it killed nine and wounded 26.

News Source TheGuardianNews

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