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Ceasefire Due To Begin At Sunset In Syria

A cessation of hostilities is due to start in Syria at sunset on Monday, after a weekend of air strikes.

The 10-day truce is due to be followed by co-ordinated US-Russian air strikes against jihadist militants.

Syrian state media reported that President Bashar al-Assad had welcomed the deal, which was reached late on Friday in Geneva after months of talks between Russia and the US. But it is unclear whether rebel factions will abide by it.

The Free Syrian Army group has written to the United States administration saying that while it would “co-operate positively” with the ceasefire, it was concerned it would benefit the government.

Another major rebel group, the hardline Islamist Ahrar al-Sham, has rejected the deal, which is scheduled to come into effect around 15:45 GMT. “A rebellious people who have fought and suffered for six years cannot accept half-solutions,” said its second-in-command, Ali al-Omar, in a video statement. But the group’s commander stopped short of explicitly saying it would not abide by its terms. And President Assad, speaking hours before the ceasefire was due to start, said the Syrian state was still “determined to recover every area from the terrorists, and to rebuild”.

Even before the ceasefire comes into effect there are signs of problems with the plan.

Armed opposition groups have formed alliances to fight the Syrian army. They range from groups supported by the Americans and their allies to ones that have had links with al-Qaeda.

The ceasefire calls on US backed groups to separate from the others. They’re reluctant to do so – one saying they’re in the same trench, with joint operations rooms. That is just one part of a complicated agreement that might crack open when it comes up against the realities of the Syrian war.

Countdown To Ceasefire

Ahead of the ceasefire, the Syrian government carried out heavy air strikes in several rebel areas over the weekend, killing about 100 people. Russian warplanes have also been in action in the provinces of Idlib and Aleppo, say Syrian activists. Such intensification of violence has occurred before other, aborted, ceasefires in Syria. “We hope there will be a ceasefire so that civilians can get a break. The shelling goes on night and day, there are targeted killings, besieged cities,” said Abu Abdullah, who lives in Aleppo’s rebel-held east. “Civilians have no hope anymore.”
Under the plan, Syrian government forces will halt combat missions in specified opposition-held areas.

Russia and the US will then establish a joint centre to combat jihadist groups, including so-called Islamic State and Jabhat Fateh al-Sham (known until recently as the Nusra Front).

The conflict in Syria, which began with an uprising against Mr Assad, has raged for five years and claimed the lives of more than a quarter of a million people. More than 4.8m have fled abroad, and an estimated 6.5m others have been displaced within the country, the UN says.

If the truce holds… Jihadist groups like so-called Islamic State and Jabhat Fateh al-Sham face the joint might of the Russian and US air forces.

Moderate rebels and civilians in the areas they hold will no longer face the threat of indiscriminate air strikes such as barrel-bombing although the Syrian air force will not be grounded completely; aid deliveries will be allowed to areas currently under siege. President Assad will be in a stronger position as the US and Russia engage two of his most effective military opponents while moderate rebels observe the truce with his forces.

Syria’s History Of Failed Deals

February 2012: Syrian government “categorically rejects” an Arab League plan calling for a joint Arab-UN peacekeeping mission
Syria rejects new Arab League peace mission proposal
June 2012/January 2014/January 2016: Three failed UN-sponsored peace conferences in Geneva

What Is The Geneva II Conference On Syria?

September 2013: Kerry and Lavrov negotiate a deal to strip the Syrian government of its chemical weapons in return for the US backing away from air strikes. Since then, the government has again and repeatedly been accused of using toxic chemicals against rebel-held areas.

Syria civilians still under chemical attack.

February 2016: World powers agree in Munich on a nationwide “cessation of hostilities” in Syria excluding jihadist groups. There is no agreement on any joint US-Russian operations. The “pause” quickly unravels as Assad promises to regain control of the whole country.

Syria war pause plan agreed by world powers.

March 2016: President Vladimir Putin declares “mission accomplished” in Syria and orders removal of “main part” of Russia’s air army in Syria. Russian air strikes have continued ever since
Putin orders ‘main part’ of forces out.