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Thursday, February 25, 2016

Syria: the fate of a ceasefire agreement unclear amid Asad's assurances to respect it and Russian airstrikes

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and
US Secretary of State John Kerry during the ceasefire talks
(Image: CBS News)
The fate of Syrian ceasefire agreement brokered recently by USA and Russia remains unclear, as fierce fighting between the Asad's forces supported by Russia and rebel forces continues and fighting against the ISIS militants escalates.

After the failure of the previous Syrian peace talks held earlier in Vienna and recently in Geneva the ceasefire agreement reached after the Munich talks remains the only one glimmer of hope for Syrian people to have a break in the continuous fighting and airstrikes, that have already left thousands Syrians dead, mostly civilians.

In accordance with the USA and Russia brokered agreement the ceasefire is expected to start on Friday midnight Damascus time (2200 GMT) with the total halt of all the fighting and hostilities and halt of weapons usage. The ceasefire agreement applies to the Bashar Al-Asad's forces, Russian and rebel forces opposing the regime of Asad. Yet HNC, which is an oppositional umbrella group, stated earlier that it is yet not ready to guarantee whether or not its forces will be able to follow the ceasefire deal as there are no guarantees that Russia will stop its airstrikes and pro-Asad forces will stop hostilities. Yet all the sides including the HNC still have the time till midnight of Friday, 26 February, to take the final decision and to stop hostilities and fighting.

The recent ceasefire agreement do not apply to ISIS and Al-Nusra Front, which is an Al-Qaeda affiliate fighting in Syria and located in many areas controlled mostly by the rebel forces.

Thus, according to the ceasefire agreement reached recently with the mediation of USA and Russia, all the fighting sides are expected to stop hostilities till Friday, 26 February. UN in its turn hopes that the cessation of fire will provide a breathing space for the Syrian peace talks to resume as soon as possible. Last round of Syrian peace talks held earlier this month in Geneva failed, as the HNC representatives were forced to withdraw from the talks after Asad forces, backed by Russian aviation, launched an offensive in the city of Aleppo.

More fighting was reported on Wednesday, 24 February, that is why the fate of the ceasefire remains unclear and the situation on the ground is extremely tense.

Meanwhile, US President Barak Obama expressed caution on Wednesday, 24 February, over the plan to stop fighting in Syria, while the main opposition group in Syria stated they had yet to commit to the ceasefire deal, as was mentioned before. Mr. Obama also added that if some progress would be made in Syria currently, it could lead to a political process aimed to end the five year long devastating war in the country. The Western powers including USA also raised the question of a political transition in Syria and the necessity for Bashar Al-Asad to step down, while Mr. Asad in his turn shows the willingness to remain in power.

US Secretary of State John Kerry stated earlier regarding the Syrian ceasefire agreement and cooperation with Russia in this issue that US is also considering the "Plan B" to deal with Syria in case if Damascus and Moscow will not respect the ceasefire. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in his turn stated that its important to stick to the current ceasefire agreement terms and that Russia is willing to fully commit to them, adding, that Russian officials were unaware of any "Plan B".

Meanwhile, Russian President Vladimir Putin has reportedly a phone conversation with Bashar Al-Asad on Wednesday, 24 February, according to Kremlin. Bashar Al-Asad assured Russian President that he is willing to support the ceasefire agreement and that this agreement is "an important step in the direction of political settlement".

In addition to that both Mr. Putin and Mr. Asad stressed the importance of continuing fighting against ISIS, Al-Nusra Front and other terrorist groups included in the relevant list of the UN Security Council.

Mr. Putin in his turn pledged earlier to do whatever is necessary to get Damascus to uphold the ceasefire deal, while some US officials and experts expressed serious doubts regarding it, as Russia continued its airstrikes in Syria.