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Syria: Cessation of Hostilities to Begin in a Week

  • Pamela Dockins

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said Friday major powers have agreed to seek a cessation of hostilities in Syria to begin in one week’s time.

Jan Egeland, the chairman of the the United Nations humanitarian meeting in Germany where the Munich Agreement was reached said it "could be the breakthrough we've been waiting for."

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu wrote on Twitter Friday the move is "an important step on the way to finding a solution to the Syrian crisis."

Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, however, has cautioned the world powers about committing their troops to any ground action in Syria. He said in a statement Friday "a ground operation draws everyone taking part in it into a war."

Kerry told reporters in Munich that the cessation of hostilities will not apply to terrorist groups, including Islamic State, al-Nusra and others. He said the 17-nation International Syria Support Group has agreed that a task force co-chaired by the U.S. and Russia will work to “determine the modalities of a long-term reduction in violence.”

"What we got last night on this cessation of hostilities represents what the opposition wanted," Kerry told reporters. "They wanted it called and defined as a cessation of hostilities. That is very much in line with their thinking and their hopes."

The top U.S. diplomat added on a cautionary note that the ISSG meeting has produced commitments on paper, but that the real test will be if all the parties honor their commitments.

The support group also agreed to “accelerate and expand” delivery of humanitarian assistance, starting with key troubled areas and then widening to provide increased humanitarian aid to the entire country.

A United Nations task force will oversee the aid delivery beginning with a meeting in Geneva and reporting on progress weekly.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov noted that the humanitarian situation in Syria is worsening and collective efforts are needed to stop it.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry sits with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, United Nations Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura, and United Nations Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson on Feb. 11, 2016, at the Hilton Hotel join Munich, Ger

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry sits with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, United Nations Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura, and United Nations Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson on Feb. 11, 2016, at the Hilton Hotel join Munich, Ger

Geneva talks

Kerry said putting an end to “violence and bloodshed is essential,” but that ultimately a peace plan is needed.

To that end, he said the ISSG unanimously called for the Geneva talks to resume as soon as possible. He said the ISSG “pledges to take every single measure we can to facilitate negotiations.”

Kerry and Lavrov will co-chair a UN-led task force focused on developing the modalities for a long term end to violence in Syria.

Earlier, U.N. Syria envoy Staffan de Mistura delayed until February 25 the next effort to get "proximity talks" under way. These would include members of the Damascus government and the main opposition groups in the civil war, but not meeting directly with each other.

A senior member of the Syrian opposition said earlier Thursday any cease-fire would be welcome if it ends "the current Russian campaign of slaughter," but that there must be guarantees that all of the Damascus regime's backers - including Iran-funded militias and fighters from Lebanon's Hezbollah movement - observe a truce.

Residents inspect the damage as blood stains are seen on the ground after airstrikes by pro-Syrian government forces in the rebel-held al-Sakhour neighborhood of Aleppo, Syria, Feb. 8, 2016.

Residents inspect the damage as blood stains are seen on the ground after airstrikes by pro-Syrian government forces in the rebel-held al-Sakhour neighborhood of Aleppo, Syria, Feb. 8, 2016.

Possible turning point

European diplomats told VOA they believed a delay in a cease-fire for several weeks would allow Russian and Syrian government troops to complete their operation to retake Aleppo and send even more refugees fleeing toward Turkey.

Regaining control of Aleppo, which has largely been under rebel control since mid-2012, would mark a possible turning point in Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's drive to crush his opponents.

“This is straight out of the Kremlin’s playbook,” said a senior European Union diplomat. He compared the Russian negotiating stance on Syria to Moscow's handling of the fighting between government forces and separatist, pro-Russian militias in Ukraine.

A Turkish official told VOA that Russia might be entering into a truce now because its military assault on Aleppo is now complete.

“Now they can focus on ... preparing for the next stage – Idlib,” the Turkish official said.

Syrians gather at the Bab al-Salam border gate with Turkey, in Syria, Feb. 6, 2016.

Syrians gather at the Bab al-Salam border gate with Turkey, in Syria, Feb. 6, 2016.

100,000 refugees in a week

In the past week, since a donor's conference about Syria in London, nearly 100,000 Syrians have fled from their homes, International Rescue Committee President David Miliband said.

The ongoing humanitarian crisis is “making a mockery of the international community’s commitment to help Syrians,” the former British Cabinet member said.

Plans to resume proximity talks between the government and opposition hinge on whether world powers can make sufficient progress in efforts to secure a cease-fire and provide humanitarian access to affected civilians.

Former U.S. ambassador to Syria Robert Ford says, "The most important thing is to somehow pressure the Russians and the Syrians to stop the aerial bombardments which are causing these floods of refugees.”

However, he added, the U.S. had not shown any “willingness to genuinely pressure Russia.”



Fern Robinson contributed to this report from Washington

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