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Syrian army, opposition confirm nationwide truce from midnight

Ceasefire excludes combat against Fateh el-Sham, Islamic State forces; Russia, Turkey to act as guarantors

Armed Syrian fighters evacuated from the embattled Syrian city of Aleppo during a ceasefire arrive at a refugee camp in Rashidin, near Idlib, Syria, December 20, 2016. (AP)
Armed Syrian fighters evacuated from the embattled Syrian city of Aleppo during a ceasefire arrive at a refugee camp in Rashidin, near Idlib, Syria, December 20, 2016. (AP)

Syria’s army said Thursday it would halt all military operations from midnight, under a deal brokered by Russia and Turkey, with the opposition National Coalition announcing support for the agreement.

Earlier, Russia’s President Vladimir Putin announced the deal, saying the Syrian regime and “main forces of the armed opposition” had signed on.

“The general command of the armed forces announces a complete halt to all hostilities on Syrian territory from the zero hour of December 30th,” Syria’s army said in a statement carried on state television.

It added that the halt excluded combat against the Islamic State group and the former Al-Qaeda affiliate previously known as Al-Nusra Front, now rebranded the Fateh al-Sham Front.

Syria’s leading opposition National Coalition body, a political entity based in Turkey, confirmed its support for the truce.

“The National Coalition expresses support for the agreement and urges all parties to abide by it,” spokesman Ahmed Ramadan told AFP.

A Syrian man gestures in the former rebel-held Salaheddin district in the northern Syrian city of Aleppo, December 23, 2016. (AFP/George OURFALIAN)
A Syrian man gestures in the former rebel-held Salaheddin district in the northern Syrian city of Aleppo, December 23, 2016. (AFP/George OURFALIAN)

He said key rebel groups including the powerful Ahrar al-Sham and Army of Islam factions had signed the ceasefire deal, though there was no immediate confirmation from rebel officials.

The agreement comes after Syria’s government recaptured the country’s second city Aleppo from rebels, in the worst blow to opposition forces since the war began.

The ceasefire will be the first nationwide halt in fighting since a week-long truce September 12-19 that collapsed after several incidents of violence.

A previous truce was implemented in February, with both of those deals organised by Russia and the United States.

Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, (l) and Russian President Vladimir Putin shake hands in Istanbul, Turkey, Oct. 10, 2016. (AP Photo/Emrah Gurel)
Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, (l) and Russian President Vladimir Putin shake hands in Istanbul, Turkey, Oct. 10, 2016. (AP Photo/Emrah Gurel)

Today’s agreement is the first nationwide ceasefire brokered with the involvement of Turkey, a backer of the Syrian opposition.

Russia is a key supporter of Syria’s President Bashar Assad and began a military intervention in support of his government in September 2015.

Despite backing opposing sides in the conflict, and a souring of relations after Turkey shot down a Russian warplane last year, Ankara and Moscow have worked increasingly closely on Syria.

They jointly brokered a ceasefire for Aleppo this month that allowed the last remaining rebels and civilians in the city’s east to leave to opposition territory elsewhere.

More than 310,000 people have been killed in Syria since the conflict began in March 2011 with protests against Assad’s government.

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