Powers Agree to Cessation of Hostilities in Syria

Powers Agree to Cessation of Hostilities in SyriaPowers Agree to Cessation of Hostilities in Syria

Major powers agreed on Friday to a cessation of hostilities in Syria set to begin in a week and to provide rapid humanitarian access to besieged Syrian towns, but failed to secure a complete ceasefire or an end to Russian bombing.

Following a marathon meeting in Munich aimed at resurrecting peace talks that collapsed last week, the powers, including the United States, Russia and more than a dozen other nations, reaffirmed their commitment to a political transition when conditions on the ground improved, Reuters reported.

At a news conference, US Secretary of State John Kerry acknowledged the Munich meeting produced commitments on paper only.

“What we need to see in the next few days are actions on the ground, in the field,” he said, adding that “without a political transition, it is not possible to achieve peace”.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov told the news conference that Russia would not stop air attacks in Syria, saying the cessation of hostilities did not apply to the self-styled Islamic State and Al-Nusrah terrorist groups, which is affiliated with Al-Qaeda. Islamic State militants control swathes of Syria and Iraq.

“Our airspace forces will continue working against these organizations,” he said.

Lavrov said peace talks should resume in Geneva as soon as possible and that all Syrian opposition groups should participate. He added that halting hostilities would be a difficult task.

But British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said ending fighting could only succeed if Russia stopped airstrikes supporting Syrian government forces’ advance against the militants.

Diplomats cautioned that Russia had until now not demonstrated any interest in seeing Assad replaced.

Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev on Thursday raised the specter of an interminable conflict or even a world war if powers failed to negotiate an end to five years of fighting in Syria, which has killed 250,000 people, caused a refugee crisis and empowered IS militants.

  Opposition Group Cautious

Syria’s main opposition group welcomed the plan by the world powers on Friday. It cautioned, however, that the agreement must prove to be effective before it joins political talks with government representatives in Geneva.

Russia’s intervention on the battlefield on behalf of Assad since last October has swung the momentum in the fight between the government and opposition forces. The latest advance over the past two weeks has seen government forces and allies rout militants and come close to encircling Aleppo, a divided city half held by militants for years.

The first peace talks in two years between belligerents in Syria fell apart last week before they began in the face of the advance by Assad’s forces.

A senior French diplomat said: “The Russians said they will continue bombing the terrorists. They are taking a political risk because they are accepting a negotiation in which they are committing to a cessation of hostilities.”

Washington is leading its own air campaign against IS militants in eastern Syria and northern Iraq, but has resisted calls to intervene in the main battlefields of Syria’s civil war in the west of the country, where the government is mostly fighting against other insurgent groups.

The communique of the plan reached in Munich said the powers had established a ceasefire taskforce, under the auspices of the United Nations, co-chaired by Russia and the United States, and including members of government and opposition groups.

The communique added that sustained humanitarian aid would begin this week to various besieged areas of Syria.

“Humanitarian access to these most urgent areas will be a first step toward full, sustained and unimpeded access throughout the country,” the joint communique added.