Diplomats aim for temporary Syria truce in a week

MUNICH -- Diplomats trying to secure a ceasefire for the civil war in Syria fell short early Friday in organizing a truce but agreed to try to work out details and implement a temporary "cessation of hostilities" in a week's time.

See Full Article

The deal appeared to be the result of a compromise between the United States, which had wanted an immediate ceasefire, and Russia, which had proposed one to start on March 1.

Although foreign ministers from the International Syria Support Group managed to seal an agreement to "accelerate and expand" deliveries of humanitarian aid to besieged Syrian communities beginning this week, their failure to agree on a ceasefire leaves the most critical step to resuming peace talks unresolved. It was not clear from their comments afterward if deep differences regarding the truce and which groups would be eligible for it could be overcome.

Speaking for the group, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry hailed the results as a significant accomplishment but noted that a cessation-of-hostilities agreement, if it can be achieved, would only be a "pause" in fighting and that more work would need to be done to turn it into a fully-fledged ceasefire.

He also allowed that the agreements made were "commitments on paper" only.

"The real test is whether or not all the parties honour those commitments and implement them," he told reporters after the nearly six-hour meeting at a Munich hotel, which ran into the early hours of Friday.

While humanitarian access -- to be discussed by a working group on Friday in Geneva -- is key to relieving the suffering of millions of Syrians in the short term, a durable and lasting ceasefire will be required if stalled negotiations between Syrian President Bashar Assad's government and the opposition are to resume on or before a U.N.-set target date of Feb. 25. The talks broke down last month before they really started, due largely to gains by Assad's military with the heavy backing of Russian airstrikes.

Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said the U.S. and Russia would co-chair both the working group on humanitarian aid as well as a task force that will try to deal with the "modalities" of the temporary truce. That task force will include members of the military along with representatives from countries that are supporting various armed groups in Syria. The Syrian government and the opposition would both have to agree to the details.

Russia had proposed the March 1 ceasefire date, which the U.S. and others saw as a ploy to give Moscow and the Syrian army three more weeks to try to crush Western- and Arab-backed rebels. The U.S. countered with demands for an immediate stop to the fighting.

Despite apparent concessions on potential timing of the truce and the agreement to set up the task force, the U.S., Russia and others remain far apart on which groups should be eligible for it. The new task force will take up a job that was supposed to have been settled months ago. At the moment, only two groups -- the Islamic State and the al-Qaida-affiliated al-Nusra Front -- are ineligible because they are identified as terrorist organizations by the United Nations.

Russia, Syria and Iran argue that other groups, notably some supported by Turkey, Saudi Arabia and other Arab states, should not be eligible for the ceasefire, and there was no sign Friday that those differences had been resolved.

Lavrov said the Russian air campaign in support of Assad's military would continue against terrorist groups and denied persistent reports that the Russian strikes have hit civilian areas, notably around rebel-held Aleppo, where heavy fighting has been raging for the past week.

Among the issues the task force is charged with sorting out are delineating territories held by the Islamic State, al-Nusra and other militant groups, ensuring the compliance of eligible parties and referring violations of the truce for appropriate action, including exclusion from the arrangement.

Asked Friday to comment on the Munich talks, Salem Meslet, the spokesman for the Syrian opposition coalition known as the High Negotiations Commitee, said, "We must see action on the ground in Syria."

Five years of conflict have killed more than a quarter-million people, created Europe's biggest refugee crisis since World War II and allowed the Islamic State to carve out its own territory across parts of Syria and neighbouring Iraq.

Overall, the United Nations says almost half a million people are besieged in Syria. Since the beginning of 2015, Syria's government had approved just 13 inter-agency aid convoys, out of 113 requested, the U.N. reported last month.

As Kerry met with the Syria group in Munich, U.S. Defence Secretary Ash Carter was in Brussels to rally fresh support for the fight against the Islamic State group in largely the same territory.

Carter said defence ministers from more than two dozen countries gave a "broad endorsement" of a refined U.S. plan for defeating the Islamic State. After a meeting at NATO headquarters, Carter told reporters that nearly all participants either promised new military commitments or said their governments would consider new contributions. He predicted "tangible gains" in Iraq and Syria by March.

"We will all look back after victory and remember who participated in the fight," he said, appealing to coalition partners to expand and deepen their military contributions.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said the alliance agreed Thursday to deploy NATO airborne command and control aircraft in order to free up similar U.S. aircraft for the air campaign in Syria and Iraq.

------

Associated Press writers Nataliya Vasilyeva in Moscow, Jamey Keaten in Geneva, Bassem Mroue in Beirut, Lolita C. Baldor and Bradley Klapper in Washington, Robert Burns in Brussels and Geir Moulson in Munich contributed to this report.



Advertisements

Latest Canada & World News

  • Burning high-rise collapses, killing at least 30 firefighters in Tehran [Video]

    World News Toronto Sun
    TEHRAN, Iran — A high-rise building in Tehran engulfed by fire collapsed on Thursday, killing at least 30 firefighters and injuring some 75 people, state media reported. The disaster struck the Plasco building, an iconic structure in central Tehran just north of the Iranian capital’s sprawling bazaar. Source
  • 'We need heavy machinery!'; 30 missing after avalanche in Italy buries hotel [Video]

    World News Toronto Sun
    MILAN — Rescue workers were met with an eerie silence Thursday when they reached a four-star spa hotel struck by an avalanche in a mountainous earthquake-stricken region of central Italy. At least 30 people were missing, including at least two children, authorities said. Source
  • Islamic State lost a quarter of its territory in 2016: report

    World News CTV News
    IRBIL, Iraq -- Researchers say the Islamic State group lost nearly a quarter of its territory last year, as an array of forces pressured it on multiple fronts in Syria and Iraq. In a report published Thursday, IHS Jane's Terrorism and Insurgency Center called the territorial losses "unprecedented" and predicted IS militants would be driven from the northern Iraqi city of Mosul later this year. Source
  • A terrorist gets out of jail for free

    World News Toronto Sun
    "The quality of mercy is not strain'd," Shakespeare wrote. "It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven/Upon the place beneath. It is twice blest:/It blesseth him that gives and him that takes." In that spirit, and unconstrained by reelection politics, President Barack Obama used his last week in office to grant clemency to hundreds of federal prisoners, reducing the sentences of some and pardoning others outright. Source
  • WATCH: Viral video shows bears begging for food at Indonesian zoo

    World News Toronto Sun
    An Indonesian zoo is under fire, again, after a video showing dangerously skinny bears begging visitors for food went viral earlier this week. The video, posted to YouTube back in May but only now is gaining steam internationally due to an article published Tuesday by the Daily Mail, shows three seemingly malnourished Bandung Zoo sun bears trying to catch food being thrown into their enclosure by patrons. Source
  • U.S. releases final batch of bin Laden documents

    World News CTV News
    WASHINGTON -- In its final hours, the Obama administration on Thursday released the last of three installments of documents belonging to Osama bin Laden that were seized in a 2011 raid that killed the al Qaeda leader in his secret compound. Source
  • Quebec woman arrested in the Bahamas for allegedly having sex with a minor

    Canada News CTV News
    MONTREAL - A Quebec mother of three is under arrest in the Bahamas for allegedly having sex with a teenage boy. Karine Gagne, 23, is accused of sexually assaulting a 15-year-old American boy earlier this month. Source
  • Quebec mom arrested in the Bahamas for allegedly having sex with teen

    Canada News Toronto Sun
    MONTREAL — A Quebec mother of three is under arrest in the Bahamas for allegedly having sex with a teenage boy. Karine Gagne, 23, is accused of sexually assaulting a 15-year-old American boy earlier this month. Her mother tells Radio-Canada her daughter was on a cruise ship when she met a young male who supposedly told her he was 18. Source
  • O'Leary: If I don't win a majority then 'fire me'

    Canada News Toronto Sun
    Kevin O’Leary is telling Conservatives to give him the boot if he doesn’t win a majority mandate for the party in 2019. He also wants to use drones instead of jets to patrol our borders to save money. Source
  • Garland murder trial to hear about tampered lock on victims' home

    Canada News CBC News
    CBC News is bringing you the latest developments from the trial when it resumes Thursday. You can also follow the latest tweets from Meghan Grant, the CBC's reporter in the courtroom, at the bottom of this story or, if on mobile, in this live blog. Source