Ceasefire in Syria takes effect

New nationwide ceasefire in Syria brokered by Russia and Turkey takes effect in a potentially major breakthrough in the conflict.

Arutz Sheva Staff ,

Syrian regime forces (file)
Syrian regime forces (file)

A nationwide ceasefire in Syria brokered by Russia and Turkey took effect on Thursday at midnight, in a potentially major breakthrough in the conflict of more than five years.

The deal does not involve Washington, which has negotiated previous ceasefires with Moscow.

The agreement, hailed by Syria's government as a "real opportunity" to find a political solution to the war, comes a week after the regime recaptured second city Aleppo in a major blow to rebel forces.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, who announced the deal earlier on Thursday, said Damascus and the "main forces of the armed opposition" had inked a truce and a document expressing a readiness to start peace talks.

"Several hours ago, the event occurred that we have not only been waiting for but been working so much to hasten," Putin said in a meeting with his defense and foreign ministers.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan described the agreement as a "historic opportunity" to end the Syrian conflict, which has killed more than 310,000 people and forced millions from their homes.

Syria's army said it would halt all military operations from midnight (2200 GMT on Thursday) and a leading opposition body, the National Coalition, voiced its support for the truce.

Putin said he would also reduce Moscow's military contingent in Syria that has been flying a bombing campaign in support of President Bashar Al-Assad since last year.

He added, however, that Russia would continue to fight "terrorism" in Syria and maintain its support for the regime.

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said seven opposition groups, including the powerful Ahrar al-Sham, had signed the deal and those who failed to adhere would be considered "terrorists".

Ahrar al-Sham is part of the Islamic Front, a coalition of seven Islamist rebel groups. The group rejected a previous ceasefire agreed upon in September.

Erdogan on Thursday indicated Turkey would press on with its four-month incursion into Syria against Islamic State group (ISIS) jihadists and Kurdish militia.

Syria's army said the deal did not include ISIS and the former Al-Qaeda affiliate Al-Nusra Front, now rebranded the Fateh al-Sham Front.

That could cause complications in areas like Idlib in northwestern Syria, where Fateh al-Sham is allied with rebel groups that have signed on to the deal.

Syria's political opposition and rebels confirmed their backing for the truce, saying it applied to all parts of the country.

"The agreement is for all of Syria and contains no exceptions or preconditions," said Osama Abou Zeid, a legal adviser to rebel groups fighting under the Free Syrian Army banner.

The agreement comes after Turkey and Russia brokered a deal to allow the evacuation of tens of thousands of civilians and rebel fighters from Aleppo.

Moscow and Ankara are now pushing for peace talks between Damascus and the rebels to start soon in Kazakhstan's capital Astana.

"Now we need to do everything for these agreements to come into force, for them to work, so that the negotiating teams that have been or are being formed promptly and as soon as possible arrive in Astana," Putin said.

UN peace envoy Staffan de Mistura said he hoped the agreement would "pave the way for productive talks" in Kazakhstan, but also reiterated he wants negotiations mediated by his office to continue early next year.

Abou Zeid confirmed the truce deal was intended to pave the way for new talks in Astana, with the High Negotiations Committee that has represented the opposition at previous negotiations expected to participate.

In the hours before the ceasefire was to take effect, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based monitoring group, reported at least 22 civilians, including 10 children, were killed in air strikes and artillery fire on rebel-held territory near Damascus.

AFP contributed to this report.