Ceasefire goes into effect across Syria

BEIRUT -- A ceasefire brokered by the United States and Russia came into effect across Syria on Saturday, marking the biggest international push to reduce violence in the country's devastating conflict, but the Islamic State group and al-Qaida's branch in Syria, the Nusra Front, were excluded.

See Full Article

The cease-fire aims to bring representatives of the Syrian government and the opposition back to the negotiating table in Geneva for talks on a political transition. The UN's envoy, Staffan de Mistura, announced that peace talks would resume on March 7 if the cessation of hostilities "largely holds."

If they do, it would be the first time international negotiations have brought any degree of quiet in Syria's five-year civil war. But success requires adherence by multiple armed factions -- and the truce is made more fragile because it allows fighting to continue against the Islamic State group and Nusra Front, which could easily re-ignite broader warfare.

The Syrian government and the opposition, including nearly 100 rebel groups, have said they will abide by the cease-fire despite serious skepticism about chances for success.

Less than an hour before the truce was set to begin, the 15-member Security Council unanimously endorsed the agreement worked out between the United States and Russia.

De Mistura told the Security Council via video conference from Geneva that he hoped the cease-fire would provide a chance for humanitarian aid to reach those battered by Syria's brutal war and allow for a political solution.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest said the U.S. didn't expect to be able to judge the cease-fire's success or failure within the first days or even weeks.

"We do anticipate we're going to encounter some speed bumps along the way," Earnest said. "There will be violations."

On Friday, hours before the cease-fire came into effect, warplanes unleashed airstrikes against rebel-held positions in the suburbs of the Syrian capital and near the northern city of Aleppo.

The last barrages came as the main Syrian opposition and rebel umbrella group said dozens of factions -- 97 groups in all -- had agreed to abide by the truce. The High Negotiations Committee, or HNC, said a military committee has been formed to follow up on adherence.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the warplanes in Friday's strikes were believed to be Russian. The Kremlin did not comment on the latest developments but denied allegations that the Russian air force bombed civilian positions east of Damascus the previous day.

The rebel-held Damascus suburb of Douma was hit 40 times on Friday, the Observatory said, along with other areas east of the capital, killing at least eight people, including three women and four children.

Mazen al-Shami, an activist based in the area, said the warplanes were Russian, adding that they carried out some 60 air raids. He said 25 strikes targeted Douma. "The air raids intensified after the revolutionary factions said they will abide by the ceasefire," al-Shami said via Skype.

Stephane Dujarric, the spokesman for the UN secretary-general, told reporters in New York that the increase of military activity was "tragic but unfortunately not surprising."

"The only thing that is required is for people to take their fingers off the trigger," he said.

Late Thursday, U.S. President Barack Obama expressed hope that the ceasefire would lead to a political settlement to end the civil war and allow a more intense focus on battling the Islamic State group. He said he doesn't expect the truce to immediately end hostilities after years of bloodshed between forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar Assad and rebels who want to end his reign.

Announced just this week, the ceasefire is a "test" of whether the parties are committed to broader negotiations over a political transition, a new constitution and holding free elections, Obama said. He said Syria's future cannot include Assad as president, which is a chief point of contention with Russia and Iran, who support the Syrian leader.

"We are certain that there will continue to be fighting," Obama said, noting that IS, the Nusra Front and other militant groups are not part of the negotiations and the truce.

Obama put the onus on Russia and its allies -- including the Assad government -- to live up to their commitments under the agreement. The elusive cease-fire deal was reached only after a monthslong Russian air campaign that the U.S. says strengthened Assad's hand and allowed his forces to retake territory, altering the balance of power in the Syrian civil war.

"The world will be watching," Obama said.

Speaking to reporters in Washington on Friday, State Department spokesman Mark Toner called it "put up or shut up" time for Russia to prove its seriousness about ending the fighting and starting a political transition by adhering to its pledge not to target "groups that we consider the moderate opposition."

In Moscow, Russian President Vladimir Putin said his country will keep hitting "terrorist organizations" in Syria even after the truce is implemented.

The opposition umbrella, HNC, said in a statement that the Syrian "regime and its allies should not exploit the (truce) and continue with their hostilities against opposition factions under the pretext of fighting terrorists."

Associated Press writers Suzan Fraser in Ankara, Turkey, and Kevin Freking and Bradley Klapper in Washington and Michael Astor in New York and Jamey Keaten in Geneva contributed to this report.



Advertisements

Latest Canada & World News

  • Man convicted of criminal harassment in Creep Catcher case gets probation, fine

    Canada News CTV News
    RED DEER, Alta. - An Alberta man convicted of criminal harassment for his involvement in a Creep Catchers sting has been fined $1,500 and must spend a year on probation. Carl Young, 38, also known as Karl Murphy, was convicted last month for his involvement in an incident where he lured a man to a meeting on Nov. Source
  • Vancouver police crack down on pop-up pot vendors after weeks-long stalemate

    Canada News CTV News
    VANCOUVER -- Police appear to be cracking down on pop-up stalls selling marijuana while frustrations mount over the open-air market operating in a prominent square in downtown Vancouver. A spokesman for the Vancouver Police Department declined comment on what he called an ongoing investigation, but vendors said Monday that officers raided merchants' tables in Robson Square the night before and arrested several sellers. Source
  • Ontario man races to break 24-hour go-kart Guinness World Record

    Canada News CTV News
    A Brampton, Ont. man is attempting to break the Guinness World Record for the greatest distance travelled in a go-kart over 24 hours. The punishing endurance race is Matthew Hayley’s way of putting family tragedy and personal depression in the rearview mirror. Source
  • Innocent teen killed amid 'uptick in gang violence': Vancouver police chief

    Canada News CTV News
    An innocent teen who was killed by gunfire while in a car with his parents was the victim of surging gang violence, Vancouver’s police chief told reporters on Monday. “We haven’t seen gang violence like this in probably the last 10 years,” Chief Constable Adam Palmer said at a press conference. Source
  • TSB investigating after plane's wheel goes off runway at Toronto airport

    Canada News CTV News
    TORONTO -- The Transportation Safety Board is investigating after a wheel of a plane went off a runway at Toronto's Pearson International Airport on Sunday evening. A spokeswoman for the Greater Toronto Airports Authority says the Air Georgian flight became temporarily disabled on the taxiway after an aborted takeoff. Source
  • Liberal MP says abortion clause in summer jobs program 'not right'

    Canada News CBC News
    Newfoundland MP Scott Simms says he is petitioning his own government to reverse a clause in a student summer jobs program that requires groups applying for grants to attest to abortion rights.Churches upset by new abortion clause in jobs programScheer accuses Trudeau of 'imposing' values on abortion with summer jobs grantsThe Liberal MP said its unfair that churches and Christian groups are being asked to violate their fundamental beliefs in order to receive funding for jobs and programs that…
  • Feds move to replace U.S. border barriers in New Mexico

    World News CTV News
    ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. -- The Trump administration announced Monday it was preparing to replace existing vehicle barriers along a stretch of the U.S.-Mexico border in New Mexico that officials call "an area of high illegal entry. Source
  • Woman, called inspiration for Rosie the Riveter, dies at 96

    World News CTV News
    LONGVIEW, Wash. - A woman identified by a scholar as the inspiration for Rosie the Riveter, the iconic female World War II factory worker, has died in Washington state. The New York Times reports that Naomi Parker Fraley died Saturday in Longview. Source
  • Aw shucks!: Silo collapse sends about 9,000 tons of corn onto road

    World News CTV News
    NEW CARLISLE, Ohio -- A silo collapse has sent about 9,070 metric tons of corn onto an Ohio road, shutting it down for days. WHIO-TV reports emergency crews first responded to calls of an explosion at the Miami Valley Feed & Grain Co. Source
  • Alberta Creep Catcher gets fine, probation for 'repugnant and malicious' crime

    Canada News CBC News
    An Alberta man who was convicted of criminal harassment for his participation in the vigilante group Creep Catchers has been fined and sentenced to probation by a judge in Red Deer, Alta. Carl Young, also known as Karl Murphy, impersonated a 15-year-old boy with the intent to confront the victim, a man he ultimately met up with in Lacombe on Nov. Source