Syria war: Powers agree on ‘cessation of hostilities’
World powers have agreed on a “cessation of hostilities” in Syria that could serve as a bridge towards the resumption of genuine peace talks later this month.
Emerging from a marathon meeting that stretched late into the night in Munich on Thursday, United States Secretary of State John Kerry said the powers had agreed on a plan that had the potential to “change the daily lives of the Syrian people”.
“Today in Munich we believe we have made progress on both the humanitarian front and the cessation of hostilities front,” Kerry said.
“We have agreed on a nationwide cessation of hostilities” starting one week from now, he said.
“This will apply to any and all parties in Syria, except for Daesh (the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, or ISIL) and al-Nusra,” he added.
Importantly, the term “ceasefire” was not included in the plan – despite earlier calls from all sides for a more definite agreement.
Ministers at Thursday’s talks wrangled over three core issues: a gradual cessation of hostilities with a firm end date, humanitarian access to cities being besieged by both sides and a commitment that Syrian parties return to Geneva for political negotiations.
British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said ending fighting could only succeed if Russia stopped air strikes supporting Syrian government forces’ advance against the opposition.
“If implemented fully and properly … this (deal) will be an important step towards relieving the killing and suffering in Syria,” Hammond said in a statement.
“A Western diplomatic source said, “We did not get a deal on the immediate end of Russian bombings, but we have a commitment to a process that if it works would change the situation.”
World leaders, including the US, Russia, Saudi Arabia and Iran, were meeting in Munich on Thursday with the aim of restarting the peace talks between the government and Syrian opposition.
The peace talks took place against the backdrop of the fierce fight for control of Syria’s Aleppo province, which continued unabated.
The Syrian government, backed by Russian air strikes, launched a major offensive from the north of Aleppo and captured several strategically important towns earlier this month.
The offensive has led to the displacement of more than 50,000 civilians from Aleppo, tens of thousands of whom have amassed in camps at the Turkish border.
On Thursday, the predominantly Kurdish Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), backed by Russian air strikes, captured a former military airbase near the border with Turkey after heavy clashes with rebel factions, according to a monitoring group and activists.
“The Syrian Democratic Forces have captured the Menagh airbase following heavy clashes with Ahrar al-Sham and al-Nusra front,” Taj Kordsh, an SDF spokesman, told Al Jazeera.
The SDF was founded in Syria’s mainly Kurdish northeastern region in October 2015, and is made up of at least 15 armed factions – mostly fighters from the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) and the Free Syrian Army.
The Syrian government holds the west of Aleppo, Syria’s largest city, while the rebels hold the east, but the situation is largely reversed in the countryside.
More than 50,000 Syrians have fled the fighting in Aleppo, the International Committee of the Red Cross said on Wednesday, adding that water supplies have been disrupted in some parts of the province.
Salah Eldine, an activist in Aleppo, told Al Jazeera on Thursday that hundreds of internally displaced Syrians have arrived to the town of Daret Ezzeh.
“They are sending people by bus from the town of Azaz, near the border with Turkey to Afreen and finally to Daret Ezzeh.
“We have all opened our houses to them, but we are running out of supplies as many buses continue to arrive. In the past 24 hours at least 50 buses full of people have arrived. They are in terrible condition,” Eldine said.
The Observatory reported on Wednesday that at least 500 people, including 89 civilians, have been killed since the offensive began on February 1.
Source: Al Jazeera