Putin: All ready for ceasefire in Syria

A boy carries an opposition flag in the rebel-held town of Kafr Batna. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Russia and the regime yesterday launched a wave of attacks on rebel areas ahead of the ceasefire deadline.
A boy carries an opposition flag in the rebel-held town of Kafr Batna. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Russia and the regime yesterday launched a wave of attacks on rebel areas ahead of the ceasefire deadline.PHOTO: REUTERS

But doubts remain as Russia steps up attacks ahead of truce

MOSCOW • All parties expected to take part in a cessation of hostilities in Syria have said they are ready to do so, Russian President Vladimir Putin has said, but the peace process could prove to be difficult.

Syria's top opposition grouping, High Negotiations Committee, said "97 factions from the opposition" have agreed to abide by the ceasefire for two weeks. The "cessation of hostilities", brokered by the United States and Russia, was due to take effect at 2200 GMT yesterday.

"Today, by midday Damascus time, all warring sides in Syria had to confirm to us or to our American partners their agreement to adhere to a ceasefire," Mr Putin told a meeting of the FSB security service in Moscow yesterday.

"That information has already reached us," he said, adding that from today, Syrian government forces, Russia and the US-led coalition would not strike any armed groups which had signed up.

His remarks came as The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based monitor, said Russia and the regime yesterday launched a wave of attacks on rebel areas ahead of the ceasefire deadline.

"It's more intense than usual. It's as if they want to subdue rebels in these regions or score points before the ceasefire," Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman said.

  • TERMS OF THE TRUCE

  • Participate in the UN-facilitated political negotiation process

  • Cease attacks with any weapons

  • Refrain from acquiring or seeking to acquire territory from other parties to the ceasefire

  • Allow humanitarian agencies rapid, unhindered and sustained access throughout areas under their operational control and allow immediate humanitarian assistance to reach all people in need

  • Proportionate use of force if and when responding in self-defence

Members of the 17-nation group backing Syria's peace process were to meet in Geneva yesterday to work out further details of the agreement. The UN Security Council was expected to vote on a resolution to endorse the planned halt in hostilities later in the day.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said he expected the UN Security Council to back the resolution, but cautioned that nobody could give a 100 per cent guarantee that the ceasefire plan would be implemented.

The deal - which excludes the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and other extremists - marks the biggest diplomatic push yet to help end Syria's five years of civil war which has killed more than 270,000 people. But the plan has been plagued by doubts after the failure of previous peace efforts.

Russia's latest intensified attacks prompted Turkey, a key supporter of opposition forces, to express worries over the viability of the ceasefire.

"We are seriously concerned over the future of the ceasefire because of the continuing Russian air raids and ground attacks by forces of Assad," presidential spokesman Ibrahim Kalin told reporters in Ankara.

Russia began launching air strikes in Syria last September, saying it was targeting "terrorists", but critics have accused Moscow of hitting rebel forces in support of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, a longtime ally.

The UN's Syria envoy has said he hopes the agreement will lead to a resumption of peace talks which collapsed earlier this month in Geneva. A Russian Foreign Ministry official said on condition of anonymity yesterday the talks may restart in Geneva on March 7.

Russia and the US are on opposing sides of the conflict, with Moscow backing Mr Assad and Washington supporting the opposition, but the two powers have been making a concerted push for the ceasefire to be respected.

REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 27, 2016, with the headline 'Putin: All ready for ceasefire in Syria'. Print Edition | Subscribe