Diplomats work toward temporary 'cessation of hostilities' in Syria

MUNICH -- Diplomats agreed Friday to work toward a temporary "cessation of hostilities" in Syria's civil war within a week, although efforts to secure a lasting cease-fire fell short.

See Full Article

The deal appeared to be the result of a compromise between the United States, which had wanted an immediate cease-fire, 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 cease-fire 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.

Secretary of State John Kerry, however, defended the agreement as what the Syrian opposition wanted.

"They wanted it called and defined as a cessation of hostilities. That is very much in line with their thinking and their hopes," he said.

Speaking for the group, Kerry praised 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 cease-fire.

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.

Dramatizing the high-stakes nature of the Munich talks, Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev argued that a full-scale ground operation in Syria could widen the conflict.

"A ground operation draws everyone taking part in it into a war," Medvedev was quoted as saying in an interview published by the German newspaper Handelsblatt.

When asked about a recent proposal from Saudi Arabia to send in ground troops to Syria, the prime minister answered that "the Americans and our Arab partners must consider whether or not they want a permanent war."

Meanwhile, humanitarian access to the battle-scarred country was to be discussed by a working group on Friday in Geneva. It is key to relieving the suffering of millions of Syrians in the short term, a durable and lasting cease-fire 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.

Syrian forces backed by Russian airstrikes have been making major gains the past weeks in a campaign aimed at encircling the rebel-held half of Aleppo, Syria's largest city, and if they succeed, it would strike a significant defeat to the rebellion. After taking a series of villages, Syrian troops are poised to target the last main supply line to the Aleppo rebels, Syrian TV and an opposition activist group said.

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 cease-fire 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 cease-fire, 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.

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.

Associated Press writers Nataliya Vasilyeva in Moscow, Jamey Keaten in Geneva, Bassem Mroue and Zeina Karam in Beirut, Bradley Klapper in Washington and Geir Moulson in Munich contributed to this report.



Advertisements

Latest Canada & World News

  • Trump to name prominent climate change denier as environmental chief

    World News CTV News
    WASHINGTON - President-elect Donald Trump is expected to nominate Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt to lead the Environmental Protection Agency, a source close to Pruitt said Wednesday. Pruitt, a 48-year-old Republican, has been a reliable booster of the fossil fuel industry and an outspoken critic of what he derides as the EPA's "activist agenda. Source
  • It may be 'foolish' to ignore Trump's tweets, even when they look like 'fluff'

    World News CBC News
    Here are some words sent from Donald Trump's Twitter account that, depending on who you talk to, did or didn't matter in the last two weeks. "Cancel order!" he wrote about Boeing's Air Force One development contract. Source
  • Hatchimals: this year's Christmas blockbuster toy — and a Canadian innovation

    Canada News CBC News
    Quick. Can you name the Canadian toy company that's growing faster than Mattel, Hasbro and Lego? No need to worry if you can't. But ask any child between three and nine years old and they probably can. Source
  • OPP asked to investigate 2 more deaths at nursing home where Elizabeth Wettlaufer worked

    Canada News CBC News
    Police have been asked to expand their investigation into a nurse accused of killing eight elderly patients after two more families expressed concern about the "unexpected" deaths of relatives who lived at a facility where Elizabeth Wettlaufer worked, a London, Ont. Source
  • Provinces urged to help solve unfixed safety recalls

    Canada News CBC News
    Provincial governments across Canada are missing an opportunity to improve auto safety by not checking for unfixed or open safety recalls when owners register their vehicles, experts say. While most provinces require a safety or mechanical inspection before a vehicle changes hands, none check for outstanding safety recalls or insist that they be fixed. Source
  • Joe Biden drops in for a visit without any gifts: Chris Hall

    Canada News CBC News
    He's just a few weeks away from becoming just another ordinary Joe. But that's not stopping U.S. Vice-President Joe Biden from making an official visit to Ottawa, where the Canadian government will roll out the red carpet. Source
  • $1B RCMP overtime bill proof of 'exhausted and depressed' members, retirees say

    Canada News CBC News
    The Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) has paid its members more than $1 billion of overtime since 2009, according to documents obtained by CBC News. Recent retirees from the force say the costs confirm anecdotes that many officers are stressed, overworked and depressed. Source
  • 'Iconic' woman who will be featured on Canadian bill unveiled today

    Canada News CBC News
    The name of the first Canadian woman to be featured on an upcoming banknote will be unveiled today. The denomination of the bill which will feature the as-yet unnamed woman will also be announced by Finance Minister Bill Morneau and Bank of Canada governor Stephen Poloz at a news conference in Ottawa. Source
  • Conservatives made 'political' decision to cut military flying time in 2014, Laurie Hawn says

    Canada News CBC News
    The Harper government made a "political" decision to cut flying times for CF-18s and other military aircraft so it could save money and campaign on a balanced budget in 2015, says a former Conservative MP and ex-fighter pilot. Source
  • A small way Trudeau's new LGBTQ2 advisor can make life easier for the trans community: Opinion

    Canada News CBC News
    Last month, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced Edmonton Centre MP Randy Boissonnault as his special advisor on lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer/questioning and two-spirited (LGBTQ2) issues. Boissonnault comes into the role with a full roster of matters waiting for attention, including a long-promised government apology for past discriminations against members of the LGBTQ2 community. Source