Syrian govt agrees to truce deal

Rebel fighters inspecting a rocket part near Deraa and Quneitra in Syria on Monday. There are obstacles to carrying out a truce in Syria's complex battlefield.
Rebel fighters inspecting a rocket part near Deraa and Quneitra in Syria on Monday. There are obstacles to carrying out a truce in Syria's complex battlefield.PHOTO: REUTERS

DAMASCUS • Syria's regime agreed yesterday to a ceasefire deal announced by the United States and Russia, but there were widespread doubts that it could take effect by the weekend as hoped.

The agreement, announced on Monday, does not apply to terrorist groups such as the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and Al-Nusra Front, creating major hurdles to how it can be implemented on Syria's complex battlefield.

A Syrian Foreign Ministry statement said the government will continue to fight both those groups as well as other "terrorists", while agreeing to stop other military operations "in accordance with the Russian-American announcement".

The deal calls for a "cessation of hostilities" between forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad and opposition groups that would take effect overnight on Friday-Saturday in Damascus.

The High Negotiations Committee, the leading Syrian opposition group, gave its conditional acceptance of the deal late on Monday. But after several previous failed attempts, few had serious expectations for a lasting ceasefire.

"This is a moment of opportunity, and we are hopeful that all the parties will capitalise on it," White House press secretary Josh Earnest said after US President Barack Obama and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin discussed the deal by phone. Mr Putin said Moscow would do "whatever is necessary" to ensure that Damascus respects the agreement. "We are counting on the United States to do the same with its allies and the groups that it supports," he said.

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon called the deal a "long-awaited signal of hope", and urged all sides to abide by it.

Analysts said the deal may be simply unworkable, rebels on the ground doubted the regime's goodwill, and many civilians expected their hopes to once again be dashed.

While ISIS control over territory is relatively clear and stable, its rival, the Al-Nusra Front, the local affiliate of Al-Qaeda, works closely with many other rebel groups. In northern Syria especially, many non-Islamist rebel groups have ties with Al-Nusra.

Shortly after the truce was announced, Mr Assad issued a decree for parliamentary elections to be held on April 13, as the four-year term of the legislature comes to a close.

Meanwhile, a teenage Swedish girl being held by ISIS militants in Iraq was rescued in a raid by Kurdish special forces last week, the autonomous region's security council said in a statement yesterday. The council identified the teenager as coming from the town of Boras, and said she had been misled into going to Syria by an ISIS member in Sweden.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 24, 2016, with the headline 'Syrian govt agrees to truce deal, but hurdles remain'. Print Edition | Subscribe