News / Middle East

    Syrian Groups Consider US-Russian Cease-fire Plan

    Syria Democratic Forces fighters carry their weapons in a village on the outskirts of al-Shadadi town, Hasaka countryside, Syria, Feb. 19, 2016.
    Syria Democratic Forces fighters carry their weapons in a village on the outskirts of al-Shadadi town, Hasaka countryside, Syria, Feb. 19, 2016.
    Pamela Dockins

    The many parties involved in Syria's five-year war are weighing whether to sign on to a cease-fire proposed by the United States and Russia that would begin Saturday.

    The cessation of hostilities would not apply to terrorist groups such as Islamic State and al-Qaida affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra.  Any other groups have until Friday to confirm their participation.

    A halt in fighting could pave the way for an expansion of humanitarian aid to Syria's many besieged cities and set the stage for a resumption of talks on a political transition.

    In a joint statement Monday, the U.S. and Russia said that under the plan parties involved in the conflict would limit any use of force to situations such as responding in self defense.  The parties would also agree to provide unhindered access to humanitarian groups delivering aid to besieged areas.

    The U.S. and Russia are co-chairs of a cease-fire task force that is part of the 17-nation International Syria Support Group. The group met in Munich earlier this month and had hoped to implement an initial cease-fire plan by last Friday.

    Some of the issues linked to the cessation still appear to be unresolved.

    U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry addresses reporters during a joint news conference with Jordanian Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh, not shown, following a bilateral meeting in Amman, Feb. 21, 2016.
    U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry addresses reporters during a joint news conference with Jordanian Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh, not shown, following a bilateral meeting in Amman, Feb. 21, 2016.

    State Department spokesman Mark Toner said that over the next few days, the task force will work out standard operating procedures.

    He also said the group may rely in part on non-government organizations and journalists in Syria for reports on possible cease-fire violations.

    "No one is denying that this is going to be a challenging environment to monitor," Toner said.

    Assurances needed

    The group is also seeking assurances from the Syrian government, the opposition and other parties involved in the conflict.

    "Over the coming days, we will be working to secure commitments from key parties that they will abide by the terms of this cessation," said Secretary of State John Kerry.

    In an interview with Al Arabiya, Syrian opposition leader Khaled Khoja expressed concern that the Syrian government could use the presence of al-Nusra terrorists as a pretext to continue hitting rebel targets in areas near the terrorist group.

    People inspect the site of a two bomb blasts in the government-controlled city of Homs, Syria, in this handout picture provided by SANA on Feb. 21, 2016.
    People inspect the site of a two bomb blasts in the government-controlled city of Homs, Syria, in this handout picture provided by SANA on Feb. 21, 2016.

    Earlier, the White House said President Barack Obama and Russian Leader Vladimir Putin spoke by phone Monday to discuss the plan.

    The White House said Obama emphasized that the priority was to ensure "positive responses" by the Syrian regime and the armed opposition.

    Under the plan, the parties involved in the conflict are to confirm their commitment to the cease-fire by Feb. 26.

    "Russian and American military will jointly define the territories on the map where such groups are active," Putin said.

    Word of the potential truce comes a day after Islamic State militants claimed responsibility for a series of attacks in Damascus and Homs left over 100 people dead.

    Toner condemned the attacks and said it would take a "united and global effort to destroy this terrorist organization."

    Russia's Foreign Ministry said in a statement the terror attacks need an adequate reaction from the international community.

    UN urges all parties to comply

    A U.N. spokesman said Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon welcomed the agreement announced by Russia and the U.S. and “strongly urges” all parties to abide by terms of the agreement.

    Earlier this month, U.N.-facilitated talks between the Syrian government and opposition broke off, partly due to opposition concerns about the Russian-backed Syrian government’s continued bombings around Aleppo.

    U.N. envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura initially planned to resume talks by Feb. 25 but, last week, the U.N. announced the talks would be further delayed.

    Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has said his government is ready for a cease-fire, but not if "terrorists" use it to bolster their positions. He has regularly referred to any opposition fighters as terrorists throughout the conflict that began in March 2011.

    Russian airstrikes

    Russia's airstrikes have been blamed for increasing the war's toll on Syrian civilians, prompting more of them to leave their homes as refugees and try to flee across the border into Turkey.

    UNICEF welcomed word of a cease-fire plan Monday, which could allow relief organizations to expand deliveries of aid.

    "If implemented, a cessation of hostilities represents an opportunity to begin the work of repairing a country that has suffered far too much for far too long," said the agency's executive director, Anthony Lake.

    VOA White House correspondent Mary Alice Salinas and Chris Hannas in Washington contributed to this report.

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    Comment Sorting
    by: EBOcale
    February 23, 2016 5:18 AM
    The texts of the Joint Statements reads:

    "Any party engaged in military or para-military hostilities in Syria, other than “Daesh”, “Jabhat al-Nusra”, or other terrorist organizations designated by the UN Security Council will indicate to the Russian Federation or the United States, as co-chairs of the ISSG, their commitment to and acceptance of the terms for the cessation of hostilities by no later than 12:00 (Damascus time) on February 26, 2016."

    What of Turkey and the shelling of them in the north of Syria of various groups which are not being listed as terrorist organizations?

    Will they stop it also?

    It is hoped that this ceasefilr is helpful but not to regroupings and increases of supplys to terrorists.

    by: meanbill from: USA
    February 22, 2016 3:59 PM
    The framework for a Syrian war ceasefire with negotiations has existed for weeks between the US and Russia, and that's why the US and Russians have been shuttling between their allies to get some kind of agreement? .. Look back, for the obvious, and ignore the propaganda? .. That's why Turkey is so upset, because they invested so much to defeat Assad and Syria, [and now], they'll have nothing but pain and suffering to show for it? .. All Obama's and the Saudi king promises were made of dirt?

    Why the rush now? .. Obama's term as president ends in less than a year, and the next US president won't be a Sunni Muslim, and he or she may not care if Assad stays or goes, and just might decide to join with the Russians to really fight and destroy all the terrorists no matter who supports them? .. The clock is ticking on Obama to do something for his Sunni Muslim allies?

    by: Anonymous
    February 22, 2016 12:09 PM
    A guide on who is who in Syria: The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights: A Single Sunni refugee in London, biased against the Syrian Government. FSA, Nusra Front, Turkmen Brigades: b.s names, used by the western media to avoid using AQ, since all these groups are AQ. AQ in Syria is also called "moderate rebels", "opposition". The AQ (opposition) in the negotiations table, is misleadingly called High Negotiations Committee (HNC), where in fact it is a collection of AQ groups supported by Saudi Arabia and Turkey.

    The Kurds are not invited to negotiations, because Turkey opposed the Kurds presence in the negotiations. The Syrian Government, Russia, Iran, Hezbollah and The Kurds: Fighting ISIS and AQ, not just ISIS, but ISIS and AQ (above-mentioned groups). Saudi Arabia and Turkey: support ISIS and AQ (the above-mentioned AQ groups and several more).

    The west, NATO and especially Britain and part of the US including presidential candidate Clinton: support Saudi Arabia and Turkey. AQ in Syria are mostly foreign Chechens, Uzbeks, Tajiks, Tunisians, Saudis and Turks, imported by Turkey via Turkey into Syria.

    by: 1worldnow from: Earth
    February 22, 2016 11:33 AM
    What is seriously missing in any of these comments is that mass murderers are being given legitimacy. No matter who is at fault (which always seems to be the most important excuse to commit murder), people are suffering, dying, and hurting for this to end. Islam is the main cause for all of this in the middle east, NOT WESTERNERS!!!!! They are murdering babies, children, the elderly, the weak, the innocent. Why doesn't anyone care about them? Why do we argue who's at fault?

    They rape, burn, behead, drill holes in their heads. Why is it necessary to give legitimacy for these kinds of evils just because other nations are involved. Christians aren't doing these evil things to our children of the world.....Islam is!!!! But we all feel comfortable blaming the US or Russia. Guess what? Islam has been doing these things since it's founding. The US and Russia didn't exist back then! It's time to put aside politics and blame and do something about all these evil people in the world that are destroying those who count on ALL OF US to protect the children.

    by: Nikos Retsos from: Chicago, USA
    February 22, 2016 10:55 AM
    The United Nations Envoy in the Syrian peace talks, Staffan De Misstura, was correct to assume that the two Islamic State (IS) bombings in Syria were a sign "of feeling cornered," as quoted in the N.Y. Times today. I fully agree with Mr. De Mastura, and I might add that the IS feels desperate, and strives to show that it still is a rebel force to be reckoned with. But being hit by all sides, and from any side, and as its force being depleted and its cash reserves were blown by the U.S., and its revenue from U.S. bombed oilfields dried up, car bombs in civilian areas are the last gasps of a dying beast - not a war-winning strategy!
    Nikos Retsos, retired professor

    by: Marcus Aurelius II from: NJ USA
    February 22, 2016 9:52 AM
    IS and al Nusra are not going to participate in any cease fire. Their goal is to control Syria. Why would they agree to a cease fire? They find no value in a negotiated settlement, all they want is everyone else to unconditionally surrender. Nor do they care about human lives, suffering, or humanitarian aid. If the Russians are looking for an excuse to cancel the peace talks, this is a transparently flimsy reason. If they want the talks to go on, they must accept what they can't change. Every time Russia fails, it's someone else's fault.

    by: Syed from: Pakistan
    February 22, 2016 9:30 AM
    Russia should be careful, because ISIS will target its territory too, this is a very sad escalation by Russia, Assad should never have been tried to be removed by force so Americans, Saudis and Turks were wrong, but also Assad should have been removed by the Syrian people, only, so all parties are at fault, including ISIS, except the people of Syria.

    Did the west learn nothing from its war in Iraq and this changing of leaders by force is the absolute one action that should never be repeated, unless there are mass killings and Syria was not in such a situation.

    The west and Russia have made a bad situation worst which is being taken advantage of by ISIS.

    Americans need to stop their drone attacks in Pakistan as well or there will be push back too, enough is enough, Muslim blood is not cheap. Everyone is silent on the killing of Muslims, until a bomb goes off somewhere no Muslims are present then everyone jumps into action, stop or otherwise make ISIS popular.

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