US and Russia agree on ceasefire deal for Syria
WASHINGTON - After the death of more than 400,000 people and the displacement of millions of others in more than five years of war, an unprecedented deal between the United States and Russia offered new hope for Syria, even if some fear the accord might be another false dawn.
US Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov announced an agreement that foresees a ceasefire and the delivery of humanitarian aid over all of Syria, including the embattled city of Aleppo, starting September 12th. Speaking early September 10th after more than 12 hours of talks in Geneva, Kerry said the deal could be a “turning point” for the Syrian conflict.
The two sides also agreed on coordinated military operations against the Islamic State (ISIS) and Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, formerly known as al-Nusra Front, the Syrian affiliate of al-Qaeda. That new model of cooperation, which reports said was highly controversial within the US government, is to start once the ceasefire has held for a week.
The Syrian Air Force, blamed for numerous attacks on civilian targets, is to be banned from flying combat missions in rebel-held areas. Lavrov, whose government is Syria’s main international ally, said the government in Damascus was prepared to comply with that provision.
He said that despite continuing distrust between the United States and Russia, the accord could form the basis for renewed efforts to get the “political process” for Syria going. Kerry and Lavrov did not say what would happen if a militia or the Syrian Army violated the agreement.
UN Syria Envoy Staffan de Mistura welcomed the agreement as a “window of opportunity” but some experts voiced doubt about the deal because previous agreements to stop the fighting in Syria were ignored by groups and countries battling on the ground.
Charles Lister, an analyst at the Middle East Institute in Washington, said it would be difficult to separate Jabhat Fateh al-Sham fighters from other opposition forces that, according to Kerry, should distance themselves clearly from the group and ISIS.
Lister said armed groups in Syria would be reluctant to give up territory to move away from Jabhat Fateh al-Sham. “Many opposition figures see the US-Russia talks and whatever comes from them as a conspiracy against their long and hard-fought-for revolution,” Lister wrote on Facebook. “It will be hard to change this mindset.”
Another possible irritant is Turkey’s intervention in northern Syria, aimed at pushing back ISIS and Kurdish militants. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said his country was ready for a joint US-Turkish attack on the ISIS de facto capital of Raqqa. Only hours before Kerry and Lavrov announced their agreement, the US-led anti-ISIS-coalition said Washington was working with Turkey and the Syrian Kurds on a possible advance on Raqqa.
Earlier talks between US President Barack Obama and Russian leader Vladimir Putin failed to produce an agreement to end the fighting. A ceasefire brokered by Washington and Moscow in February had also been unable to stop the war.