Syria ceasefire comes into effect under US-Russia deal
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Syria ceasefire comes into effect under US-Russia deal

Moscow says it will ‘continue to carry out strikes against terrorist targets’ as 48-hour truce begins

A fighter from the Jaish al-Islam (Islam Army) sits near smoke billowing on the front-line, which they use to take cover, in the village of Tal al-Siwan area of the rebel-held stronghold of Douma, on the outskirts of Damascus, on September 5, 2016. (AFP PHOTO / Sameer Al-Doumy)
A fighter from the Jaish al-Islam (Islam Army) sits near smoke billowing on the front-line, which they use to take cover, in the village of Tal al-Siwan area of the rebel-held stronghold of Douma, on the outskirts of Damascus, on September 5, 2016. (AFP PHOTO / Sameer Al-Doumy)

An internationally backed ceasefire for Syria came into effect at sundown Monday as part of a hard-fought deal to bring an end to the war between rebels and regime fighters.

The truce, brokered by the United States and Russia, entered into force at 7:00 pm local time (1600 GMT) across Syria except in jihadist-held areas.

While the Syrian government and its allies have signed on to the deal, opposition forces have yet to formally respond.

Russia said earlier Monday the truce would cover the entire country, but Moscow would still strike “terrorist targets.”

“Today from 1900 (local time) the cessation of hostilities is being resumed across all the territory of Syria,” senior Russian military official Sergei Rudskoi said at a briefing, adding Russia would “continue to carry out strikes against terrorist targets.”

Syrian civilians and a rescue worker evacuate children in the Maadi district of eastern Aleppo after regime aircraft reportedly dropped explosive-packed barrel bombs, August 27, 2016. (AFP/Ameer Alhalbi)
Syrian civilians and a rescue worker evacuate children in the Maadi district of eastern Aleppo after regime aircraft reportedly dropped explosive-packed barrel bombs, August 27, 2016. (AFP/Ameer Alhalbi)

In a further sign of the deal’s fragility, Syria’s President Bashar Assad vowed to retake the whole country from “terrorists.”

The deal, announced Friday after marathon talks between Russia and the United States, has been billed as the best chance yet to halt the bloodshed in Syria’s five-year civil war.

As well as bringing a temporary end to the fighting, it aims to provide crucial aid to hundreds of thousands of desperate civilians.

Under the agreement, an initial 48-hour ceasefire is to begin at 7:00 pm local time (1600 GMT), halting fighting in areas not held by jihadists like the Islamic State group.

Aid deliveries to many besieged and “hard-to-reach” areas are set to simultaneously begin, with government and rebel forces ensuring unimpeded humanitarian access in particular to divided Aleppo city.

The ceasefire will be renewed every 48 hours and, if it holds for a week, Moscow and Washington will begin unprecedented joint targeting of jihadist forces.

Syrian soldiers gesture on September 4, 2016 at a location on the southern outskirts of the Syrian city of Aleppo after regime forces retook control of three military academies from rebel fighters. (AFP/ GEORGE OURFALIAN)
Syrian soldiers gesture on September 4, 2016 at a location on the southern outskirts of the Syrian city of Aleppo after regime forces retook control of three military academies from rebel fighters. (AFP/ GEORGE OURFALIAN)

After years of stalled peace efforts and the failure of a landmark truce agreed in February, world powers are anxious to end a conflict that has killed more than 290,000 people.

Russia’s deputy foreign minister Mikhail Bogdanov told state-run news agency RIA Novosti that peace talks could resume within a month.

“I think that probably at the very beginning of October, [UN envoy Staffan] de Mistura should be inviting all parties” to talks, he said.

But Syria’s opposition and rebels are deeply skeptical that Assad’s regime will abide by the truce agreement, and demanded guarantees before endorsing a deal.

“We are asking for guarantees especially from the United States, which is a party to the agreement,” Salem al-Muslet from the High Negotiations Committee, the main opposition umbrella group, told AFP Monday.

“We fear that Russia will classify all the Free Syrian Army (rebel factions) as terrorists,” as it was unclear how the deal defined “terrorist groups”, he said.

Rebel groups on Sunday sent a letter to the US saying they would “deal positively with the idea of the ceasefire” but listed several “concerns” and stopped short of a full endorsement.

“The clauses of the agreement that have been shared with us do not include any clear guarantees or monitoring mechanisms… or repercussions if there are truce violations,” they said.

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