Ceasefire Takes Effect in Syria’s Eastern Ghouta

Ceasefire Takes Effect in Syria’s Eastern Ghouta
Ceasefire Takes Effect in Syria’s Eastern Ghouta

A Russian-negotiated ceasefire has gone into effect in Syria’s Eastern Ghouta, the last remaining rebel stronghold near the capital Damascus.

The truce, which started on Saturday, is expected to bring temporary relief to an estimated 400,000 people in the area.

Eastern Ghouta has been under a government siege since 2013.

The region’s proximity to Damascus underlines the importance of the area to the government of President Bashar al-Assad.

The ceasefire was negotiated in Vienna, Al Jazeera reported.

Not all opposition factions in Eastern Ghouta signed up to the deal and it remains to be seen how long it will hold, Al Jazeera’s Stefanie Dekker said.

“The proof is to see the developments on the ground. I think we have to wait and see how it turns out,” she said.  

Over the past two months, Russian jets and the Syrian army have intensified their bombardment of the rebel enclave.

  Sochi Talks

News of the deal comes as the Syrian opposition announced it plans to boycott Russia-hosted peace talks in Sochi next week, claiming that it is an attempt to undercut the United Nations’ effort to broker a deal.

Saturday’s announcement was made in Vienna, where the latest round of UN talks between Syria’s government and the opposition wrapped without major breakthroughs.

“We listened to many guarantees concerning commitment, but none of them were delivered somehow,” said Ahya al-Aridi, Syrian opposition spokesman, following the announcement.

“We are tired of that, we need real involvement, we need real commitment,” he told Al Jazeera.

Aridi said it was up to Russia to put more pressure on the Syrian government to make concrete steps to resolve the crisis, which is now in its seventh year.

“We believe that the ball is in the Russian court,” he said. “They say that they have the upper hand in Syria and they were responsible for saving this regime for a long time, and they can bring it to commit itself to international legality resolutions and if they want, they can.”

In a separate press conference on Saturday morning, Nasr al-Hariri, leader of the Syrian opposition delegation, also called on the Assad government to commit to “tangible goals” set by the UN.

So far, nine rounds of UN talks between the warring sides have made little progress toward ending the civil war.

Staffan de Mistura, the UN special envoy for Syria, said he has not decided whether he will attend the talks in Russia.

Mistura said he shared the frustration of millions of Syrians at the lack of a political settlement to date.

“Ultimately, what is required is political will,” he said. “It is high time that diplomacy, dialogue and negotiations prevail for the interest of all Syrians.”

  Unacceptable Proposal

Earlier, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, US, Britain and France submitted a document to de Mistura recommending a “practical approach” to achieve peace, including reforming the Syrian constitution and the conduct of “free and fair elections”.

Bashar al-Jaafari, Syria’s chief negotiator and representative to the UN, said the document was “unacceptable”.

“Our people have not and will never accept a solution that is parachuted onto them or that is carried on tanks,” he said in a statement to reporters.

“The goal of the conference in Sochi is to engage in a national intra-Syrian dialogue without foreign interference. The conference will be attended by about 1,600 participants who will reflect the various components of Syrian society,” he added.

With the retreat of the self-styled Islamic State terror group in Syria, Assad’s forces have regained several territories, while putting the opposition on the defensive.

Elsewhere, in Syria’s northern Kurdish enclave of Afrin, Turkish forces and the Free Syrian Army continue their march into the city as they continue their operation against the US-backed Kurdish armed group YPG.

The fighting has complicated relations between Turkey and the US, which are both opposed to the Syrian government, but have found itself in the opposite sides against the Kurds.

As of Saturday morning, there have been at least 394 YPG fighters killed since the beginning of the operation, the Turkish military said.

“We are fighting the YPG because they betrayed us, and especially because they took over my city, Tal Rifaat,” Mohammed Abu Ahmed, an FSA fighter battling alongside the Turkish troops, told Al Jazeera.

“I have been displaced along with many of my neighbors for two years living in the camps,” he said. “There are such bad conditions especially now in the winter.”

Syria’s conflict, which started in March 2011, escalated into a full-blown war that has claimed more than 400,000 lives and driven about half of the country’s prewar population of 22 million from their homes.



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