The Latest: Cease-fire takes effect in war-ravaged Syria
The Latest: Cease-fire takes effect in war-ravaged Syria
By The Associated Press
Dec. 29, 2016
BEIRUT (AP) — The Latest on the conflict in Syria, and the Russia-Turkey-brokered cease-fire agreement (all times local):
A cease-fire agreement between Syria's government and the country's mainstream rebel groups has gone into effect in the war-ravaged nation.
The truce was brokered by both Russia and Turkey, who support opposing sides in the war. It took effect at midnight Thursday.
The agreement is a potential breakthrough in the six-year civil war that has left more than a quarter-million people dead and triggered a refugee crisis across Europe.
Russian President Vladimir Putin says that if the truce holds, it will be followed by peace talks next month in Kazakhstan between Syrian President Bashar Assad's government and opposition groups.
Syria's foreign minister has welcomed the cease-fire agreement and said there is a "real chance" for a political settlement.
In comments made to Syrian TV Thursday, he said the Syrian government will attend peace talks in the Kazakh capital Astana "with an open mind," but suggested it would not be willing to compromise on the fate of Syrian President Bashar Assad.
"Everything is negotiable except national sovereignty and the people's right to choose its leadership."
He lashed out at Turkey, calling it an "aggressive country and an occupier of parts of the Syrian territories."
He also said Turkey was not mentioned in any of the documents that were signed, adding that Turkey was not a partner and "we didn't negotiate with it."
Russia's president called Assad Thursday to discuss the cease-fire agreement and upcoming talks in Astana, the Syrian presidency said on its Instagram page.
Turkey's prime minister says the U.S.-backed Syrian Kurdish militia won't take part in peace talks that could take place if a nationwide Syrian cease-fire agreement succeeds.
Binali Yildirim told reporters Thursday: "No group that we regard as a terror organization will sit around the negotiating table and we regard the PYD as a terror organization." He was referring to the Democratic Union Party, which Turkey considers to be an extension of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK.
An adviser to the U.N. envoy for Syria has said the peace talks between the Syrian government and opposition could be held in the former Soviet republic of Kazakhstan before the new U.S. president is sworn in on Jan. 20
The Kremlin says Syrian President Bashar Assad is committed to abiding by a cease-fire deal as well as a sit down for talks with the opposition.
Russian President Vladimir Putin and Assad spoke on the phone to discuss the nationwide cease-fire deal that the Syrian government and Russia announced earlier on Thursday, the Kremlin said in a statement.
The Kremlin said Assad told Putin he is "committed to implementing" the cease-fire agreement and prepared to join the peace talks with opposition rebels that will follow the deal.
Vitaly Naumkin, who advises U.N. envoy Staffan de Mistura, said in an interview with the RIA Novosti news agency that talks in the Kazakh capital Astana could be held before the new U.S. president is sworn in on Jan. 20.
A Kurdish official says Kurdish groups and their Arab and Christian allies have approved a document that would act as a constitution in their autonomous region in northern Syria.
Nawaf Khalil, an official with the Democratic Union Party, or PYD, said the document known as the Social Contract was approved Thursday during a meeting in the northeastern Syrian town of Rmeilan.
Syrian Kurds run their self-declared, largely autonomous area, called Rojava Kurdistan or western Kurdistan.
The new document removed the word Rojava, in an apparent move to appease Arab and Christian groups that are part of the autonomous region.
Despite the large Kurdish presence in northeastern Syria, many towns and villages in the autonomous region are predominantly Arab or Christian.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said that Turkey will press ahead with its military offensive to clear a border area in northern Syria from Islamic State militants, saying the cease-fire agreement does not comprise terror organizations.
Erdogan on Thursday labeled the cease-fire agreement a "window of opportunity that should not be squandered" and called on all sides to abide by its terms.
In an apparent reference to Iran, Erdogan said all countries with influence over groups fighting in Syria should also contribute to the cease-fire process.
Speaking at a news conference alongside the president of Kosovo, Erdogan said the peace talks set to be held in Kazakhstan's capital, Astana, were not meant to replace the peace process in Geneva but rather "complement" it.
Erdogan said the Turkish military operations "against terrorist organizations, including Daesh, will continue until the security of the Turkish citizens is completely guaranteed. There can be no concessions on this issue." He was using an Arabic acronym for the IS group.
Russia's foreign ministry says a mortar round has exploded inside the Russian embassy compound in the Syrian capital Damascus.
Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said in a statement Thursday that the mortar fired from a rebel-controlled suburb of Damascus fell near the entrance of the embassy's consulate department. The ministry reported "insignificant material damage" and no injuries.
It is the second mortar attack on the Russian embassy in as many days. The foreign ministry said Wednesday that a mortar round had landed in the embassy courtyard without exploding, and that another had also fallen in the vicinity.
Zakharova on Thursday linked the attack to a cease-fire deal in Syria that the government forces and Russian President Vladimir Putin announced earlier in the day.
Russia is a key ally of Syrian President Bashar Assad, who since 2011has been battling a revolt against his family's four-decade rule.
U.N. envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura is welcoming the agreement on a cease-fire in Syria and says he hopes it will pave the way for "productive" talks between the parties to the country's civil war.
A statement from de Mistura's office in Geneva on Thursday said he hopes that the accord will save civilian lives, facilitate the delivery of humanitarian assistance across Syria and allow for useful talks in the Kazakh capital, Astana.
The statement added: "The special envoy is of the view that these developments should contribute to inclusive and productive intra-Syrian negotiations to be convened under UN auspices on Feb. 8, 2017."
Egypt has welcomed the nationwide cease-fire in Syria that will go into effect at midnight Thursday.
In a statement Thursday following a meeting with a Syrian opposition leader, Ahmed al-Jarba, the Foreign Ministry says it is of "critical importance" that Syrian forces develop a common vision to resolve the country's crisis and begin serious talks about the future of Syria.
The cease-fire, which will be observed by Turkey and Russia, who are to follow the situation on the ground to ensure that it holds. It will include all parts of Syria, including the eastern suburbs of the capital Damascus.
Excerpts of the cease-fire agreement obtained by The Associated Press say the truce will include all areas where the "moderate opposition" has a presence, including those where al-Qaida's branch in Syria exists.
An adviser to the U.N. envoy for Syria says peace talks between the Syrian government and opposition could be held in the former Soviet republic of Kazakhstan before the new U.S. president is sworn in.
Vitaly Naumkin, who advises U.N. envoy Staffan de Mistura, said in an interview with the RIA Novosti news agency that talks in the Kazakh capital Astana "should take place in the nearest future."
"All of this will happen before Jan. 20," he was quoted as saying, adding that U.N.-sponsored talks in Geneva will be held afterward, when Donald Trump is sworn in as the U.S. president.
Naumkin's remarks came several hours after Russian President Vladimir Putin and the Syrian army said that a nation-wide cease-fire agreement has been reached with opposition rebels, and that it will be followed by peace talks between Syrian President Bashar Assad's government and the opposition, without specifying a date.
A spokesman for the main moderate Syrian opposition groups says they have agreed to abide by the nationwide cease-fire that will go into effect at midnight Thursday.
Osama Abu Zeid has told reporters in Turkey that the truce will be followed by peace talks in Kazakhstan that will focus on finding a solution for Syria's crisis.
He said 13 armed opposition factions have signed the five-point agreement.
Abu Zeid says the peace talks will be based on the Geneva 2012 declaration that called for a transitional governing body with full executive powers to run affairs in Syria during the transitional period.
He said "this means that there will be no presence for (President Bashar) Assad in the future."
He said the truce excluded the Islamic State group and the main Kurdish militia that Turkey considers a terrorist organization.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's spokesman says the Turkish and Russian leaders have discussed the cease-fire agreement as well as a planned peace process for Syria during a telephone conversation.
Ibrahim Kalin said Thursday that Turkey considers the cease-fire "an important step to resolve the Syrian conflict."
"The arrangement aims to expand the cease-fire in Aleppo to other parts of Syria, secure uninterrupted humanitarian assistance and revitalize the political process," Kalin said.
Kalin said Erdogan would "continue to work toward the success" of peace talks scheduled to take place in Kazakhstan's capital, Astana.
Turkish media reports say Russian war planes have targeted the Islamic State group in northern Syria, providing support to a Turkish offensive there.
The pro-government Sabah newspaper and other media said Thursday that the Russian jets bombed IS targets in the al-Bab region late on Wednesday. If confirmed, it would mark the first instance of Russian support to the Turkish operation in northern Syria.
The reports were based on unnamed Turkish military officials and came after Turkey complained about a lack of aerial support from the U.S.-led coalition for its operation to capture al-Bab from the extremist group.
The reports said Russian warplanes hit targets south of al-Bab.
The cease-fire that will go into effect in Syria midnight Thursday will include all parts of Syria including the eastern suburbs of the capital Damascus.
Excerpts of the cease-fire agreement that were obtained by The Associated Press say the truce will include all areas where the "moderate opposition" has a presence, including those where al-Qaida's branch in Syria exists.
It says the opposition will be given the right to name its delegation to peace talks in the Kazakh capital of Astana.
The talks will begin within a month from the time the cease-fire goes into effect. It says the peace talks will be in accordance with December 2015 U.N. Security Council resolution 2254 which endorsed a road map for a transitional period that includes parliamentary and presidential elections within 18 months.
A main Syrian opposition group says it supports a nationwide cease-fire set to go into effect at midnight and that moderate rebel factions will abide by it, but defend themselves if attacked.
Ahmad Ramadan of the Syrian National Coalition said the truce reached Thursday includes a halt to airstrikes and shelling.
Ramadan said in text messages sent to The Associated Press that members of the Free Syrian Army, a loose alliance of several moderate rebel factions, will abide by the truce but retaliate to violations by government and allied forces.
The Syrian army said the truce does not include al-Qaida's branch in Syria and the Islamic State group, two of the most powerful armed factions.
Turkey has welcomed a Syrian cease-fire set to come into effect at midnight.
The Foreign Ministry says groups regarded as terror organizations by the U.N. Security Council will be excluded from the cease-fire, in which Turkey and Russia will act as guarantors.
It was apparently referring to the Islamic State group and the al-Qaida-linked Fatah al-Sham Front.
It says the government and the opposition have agreed to halt attacks, including aerial attacks, and not to expand territories under their control in a way that would be detrimental to each other.
Turkey and Russia would closely follow the situation on the ground to ensure the cease-fire holds. The statement calls on all sides wielding influence on the warring parties to provide the necessary support to halt hostilities.
President Vladimir Putin has ordered the Russian military to scale down its presence in Syria, where it has provided crucial support to Syrian President Bashar Assad's forces.
Putin spoke Thursday, as a Syrian cease-fire brokered by Russia and Turkey was set to begin at midnight.
Putin didn't say how many troops and weapons will be withdrawn. He said Russia will continue "fighting international terrorism in Syria" and supporting Assad's military.
Putin also said that the Russian military will maintain its presence at both an air base in Syria's coastal province of Latakia and the naval facility in the Syrian port of Tartus.
The cease-fire is to be followed by renewed peace negotiations to end the nearly six-year conflict.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov says Egypt will be invited to join the process, and that Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Jordan could eventually join as well.
The Syrian army has announced a nationwide cease-fire as of midnight.
In a statement carried by state news agency SANA on Thursday, the military command "declares a comprehensive nationwide cessation of hostilities as of midnight."
State TV says the cease-fire paves the way for reactivating negotiations to end the conflict.
It says the cease-fire comes after the "successes achieved by the armed forces," an apparent reference to the capture of rebel-held neighborhoods of Aleppo earlier this month.
Russian President Vladimir Putin said Thursday that Russia and Turkey will guarantee the truce. Russia is a key ally of Syrian President Bashar Assad, while Turkey supports the opposition.
Russian President Vladimir Putin says a Syrian cease-fire agreement has been reached with Turkey.
Putin said Thursday that Russia and Turkey will guarantee the truce, which is set to begin at midnight. He says it will be followed by peace talks between Syrian President Bashar Assad's government and the opposition, and that the Syrian parties would take part in talks to be held in Kazakhstan, without specifying a date.
Syria's military said it had agreed to a nationwide cease-fire starting at midnight.
Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu says the truce will include 62,000 opposition fighters across Syria, and that the Russian military has established a hotline with its Turkish counterpart to monitor compliance.
Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov says that that President-elect Donald Trump's administration will be welcome to join the Syrian peace process once he takes office.
Russia is a key ally of Assad, while Turkey is one of the main backers of the opposition. Several previous attempts to halt the civil war have failed.
Turkey says Lebanon's militant Hezbollah group should withdraw from Syria and a nationwide cease-fire should come into effect before the end of the year.
The Iran-backed Hezbollah has sent thousands of fighters to Syria to back President Bashar Assad's forces.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said in an interview with the Turkish A Haber news channel on Thursday that Ankara and Moscow are close to reaching an agreement on a nationwide cease-fire. Turkey would serve as guarantor of rebel compliance, while Russia would guarantee adherence by the government.
He says Iran stated during talks earlier this month in Moscow that it will act as a guarantor for the Syrian government as well as allied Shiite groups, including Hezbollah.