Turkey claims Syria ceasefire plan under way

Ankara says that Turkey and Russia have prepared both a ceasefire agreement and a political peace deal for the whole of Syria, and they can be implemented at any time.
Children in Syria's Aleppo province. Turkey and Russia hope to expand a ceasefire in Aleppo, brokered earlier this month to allow for civilian evacuation, to all of Syria.
Children in Syria's Aleppo province. Turkey and Russia hope to expand a ceasefire in Aleppo, brokered earlier this month to allow for civilian evacuation, to all of Syria.PHOTO: REUTERS

Ankara working with Moscow in bid to end civil war; Syrian rebels yet to see proposal

ISTANBUL • Turkey and Russia have agreed on a ceasefire plan for all of Syria that was due to come into force yesterday, according to Turkish state media, as Ankara and Moscow tighten cooperation to find an end to the civil war.

The plan aims to expand a ceasefire in the city of Aleppo, brokered by Turkey and Russia earlier this month to allow the evacuation of civilians, to all of Syria, said the state-run Anadolu news agency.

Like previous ceasefire plans brokered by the US and Russia, it excludes "terror" groups.

Turkey's Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said his government had prepared an agreement towards a ceasefire, but said a transition towards peace in Syria that involves President Bashar al-Assad is "impossible" as the country's opposition will not accept him.

The Kremlin said it could not comment on the Anadolu report.

"I cannot answer that question right now," Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said. "I don't have sufficient information."

But, referring to potential Syrian peace talks that Russia wants to organise in Kazakhstan, he said: "We are constantly in touch with our Turkish colleagues to discuss various details about the possible talks that are planned for Astana."

A Syrian rebel source, asking not to be named, told Agence France- Presse in Beirut that details of the proposal still had to be submitted to the rebel groups, and said there was no agreement as yet.

If successful, the plan will form the basis of upcoming political negotiations between the Damascus regime and the opposition overseen by Russia and Turkey in the Kazakh capital Astana, it added.

Turkey and Russia will work for the plan to come into force at midnight, Anadolu said, without giving further details.

It was not immediately clear how and where the plan had been agreed but there have been talks in the past weeks between Turkey, Russia and Syrian opposition representatives in Ankara.

The Qatar-based Al-Jazeera said a new meeting is planned for today in Ankara, this time between military representatives of Syrian rebels and Russia.

Ankara and Moscow have been on opposing sides in the Syrian civil war, with Turkey seeking the ouster of President Assad and Russia, along with Iran, his key international ally.

But the two countries have started in the last months to cooperate more tightly on Syria, especially after a deal earlier this year to normalise relations battered by Turkey's shooting down of a Russian warplane last year.

Turkey remained conspicuously quiet as Mr Assad's forces, backed by Russia, took control last week of all of Aleppo in the biggest defeat for the rebels in the civil war so far.

Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Maria Zakharova said the Astana talks were not intended to replace the peace process based in Geneva which has sought to find a solution to the Syrian conflict.

But the direct bilateral involvement of Ankara and Moscow comes as Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is increasingly expressing impatience at the role of the United States in Syria.

Previous ceasefire plans had been brokered by US Secretary of State John Kerry and his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov. They achieved only temporary success and failed to lead to a solution to the conflict.

It remains unclear how the latest ceasefire plan will apply to the Fateh al-Sham, formerly the Al-Qaeda affiliate Al-Nusra Front, which has worked more closely with the rebels since changing its name.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 29, 2016, with the headline 'Turkey claims Syria ceasefire plan under way'. Print Edition | Subscribe