Syria ceasefire deal reached between regime and rebels, Russia says

Posted at 10:52 AM, Dec 29, 2016
and last updated 2016-12-29 10:52:09-05

ISTANBUL (CNN) — The Syrian government and opposition rebels have agreed to terms for a ceasefire in the country’s long-running civil war, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced Thursday.

According to Russian state media TASS, Putin said the two sides had also agreed to enter peace talks to end the conflict that has raged for nearly six years.

The general command of Syria’s military and the Armed Forces said their operations would come to a complete halt beginning early Friday at midnight (5 p.m. ET Thursday), state-run news agency SANA reported.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said earlier that Russia and Turkey would be guarantors to the agreement.

Groups considered as terrorist organizations by the UN Security Council, such as ISIS, would be excluded from the agreement, the Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs said.

Fragile agreement

Putin announced the deal at a meeting with Russian foreign and defense ministers.”Reports have just arrived that several hours ago there was a development that we all have looked and worked for for so long,” he said.

Three documents had been signed, he said: the ceasefire agreement, a package of measures to oversee the ceasefire and a declaration of readiness to enter into peace talks.

Putin said the “agreements reached are very fragile” and that they demanded “special attention and patience.”

Turning point

A successful nationwide ceasefire hinges on many fighting factions laying down arms — groups from Iraq, Iran and Lebanon are also fighting alongside the forces of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime.

Putin’s announcement comes after several attempts at ceasefires by the international community crumbled.

It also follows several ceasefire agreements brokered by Turkey and Russia in the city of Aleppo this month. Most were broken, but a final one held and allowed the evacuations of tens of thousands of rebels and civilians from the city’s east, which had been under the control of rebel groups for more than four years.

The Syrian regime then gained full control of Aleppo, a major turning point that has limited the opposition’s military and political options.

Turkey and Russia have differed, however, in their stance on Assad — Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said last month that Turkish forces entered Syria to help end Assad’s rule. Russia is Assad’s most powerful ally and has propped up his regime since September 2015 with airstrikes.

Putin said Russia would begin scaling back its military presence in Syria, though it would continue to support the “legitimate Syrian government in its struggle with terrorism.”

US sidelined

Turkey and Russia appear to be sidelining the United States, which has led an international coalition to fight ISIS in Syria and has vehemently opposed any attempt to keep Assad in power.

Russia has long accused the US of arming what it considers terrorist organizations, while Turkey has made similar claims in recent days.

But Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov expressed hope Thursday that US President-elect Donald Trump would support Russia’s direction on Syria’s crisis settlement, Russian state media reported.

An estimated 400,000 people have been killed in Syria’s brutal conflict — a civil war that has drawn in several world powers.

Meanwhile, the US mission in Syria said Thursday that ISIS gang leader Abu Jandal al-Kuwaiti had been killed in a coalition airstrike on Monday.

He was involved in the use of suicide vehicles, improvised explosive devices and chemical weapons against the Syrian Democratic Forces, the mission said in a statement.

He was a member of the militant group’s war committee and was involved in ISIS’ recapture of the ancient city of Palmyra, the statement said.