Turkey and Russia ‘agree’ on nationwide Syria ceasefire

Turkish state media says if truce succeeds, political talks will start in Kazakhstan under Turkey and Russia’s guidance.

Children walk near a parked ambulance vehicle in al-Rai town, Aleppo
Almost 11 million Syrians have been displaced by the conflict [Khalil Ashawi/Reuters]

Turkey and Russia have agreed on a countrywide ceasefire plan for Syria, except for areas where government forces are battling armed groups declared terrorist organisations by the United Nations.

Turkey’s state-run Anadolu news agency reported on Wednesday that a ceasefire plan had been submitted to Syria’s rival parties and could come into force as soon as midnight (22:00 GMT).

Citing a source who requested anonymity, Anadolu said “terrorist organisations” would be excluded from the deal.

This would most certainly exclude the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) group and Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, the group formerly known as al-Nusra Front.

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The source also said that if the ceasefire succeeded, political negotiations would start in the Kazakh capital, Astana, under Turkey and Russia’s guidance.

Samir Nashar, a Syrian opposition figure, said that there were “tremendous efforts being exerted by the Turkish government to implement such a ceasefire with the help of an Arab country” before a proposed meeting takes place in Kazakhstan.

Labib Nahhas, foreign relations head for another rebel group, Ahrar al-Sham, confirmed to AFP news agency that the faction was “aware of ongoing discussions between Russia and Turkey…”.

But he said that rebel factions had not been presented with any official proposal and said there were still obstacles to the deal.

“Russia wants to exclude Eastern Ghouta from the ceasefire, which is not acceptable,” he said, referring to a rebel-held area outside Damascus.

Syria’s army has been advancing in Eastern Ghouta in recent months, and securing the area around the Syrian capital would be another major government gain after recapturing Aleppo.

Al Jazeera’s Hashem Ahelbarra, reporting from Gaziantep, in Turkey, near the Syria border, said the deal amounts to a “major breakthrough” and could pave the way for a final political settlement.

“Many rebel groups were instrumental during the deal. They were present during the talks between the Russian and Turks and principally agree with the terms,” he said.

“But the political umbrella of the opposition is sceptical and says that armed groups should not have a say on major deals; the highest political organs should.

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“Having said that, this will just be phase one of the deal. Phase two will be the stitching together of a political settlement.

“But at the moment we still have two opposing views. The Turks say President Bashar al-Assad should have no rule in a future Syria, a condition which has been repeatedly dismissed by Russia in the past.

“So it still remains to be seen whether these two can overcome their differences and pave the way for a final political settlement.”

The foreign ministers of Turkey, Russia and Iran met last week in Moscow where they agreed to act as guarantor powers for a peace accord between the Assad government and the opposition.

‘Children killed’

Amid the diplomatic developments, air strikes have killed at least 22 people, including 10 children, in a village in eastern Syria, according to a UK-based monitor.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported on Wednesday that the raids hit the village of Hajna in Deir Az Zor province, killing 12 people from one family and 10 from another. It said at least 10 children were among the dead.

Local activists quoted online said the air strikes happened on Tuesday. Located in the northern countryside of Deir Az Zor, Hajna is held by ISIL, also known as ISIS.

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The Syrian Observatory had no immediate word on who carried out the raids but it was likely to have been either the Assad government or its ally Russia.

The Syrian civil war started as a largely unarmed uprising against Assad in March 2011, but quickly developed into a full-on armed conflict.

Staffan de Mistura, the UN special envoy to Syria, estimated in April that more than 400,000 Syrians had been killed since 2011.

Calculating a precise death toll is difficult, partially owing to the forced disappearances of tens of thousands of Syrians whose fates remain unknown.

Almost 11 million Syrians – half the country’s prewar population – have been displaced from their homes.

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies