Syria’s seven-day ceasefire takes effect but violence erupts within hours
Martin Chulov, Julian Borger, Grauniad, Sep 12 2016
BEIRUT/WASHINGTON – A planned ceasefire between regime and opposition groups was struggling to take hold in several parts of Syria hours after it was due to take effect, with explosions reported on a supply line to rebel-held east Aleppo and in the southern town of Deraa. Attacks were also reported in Homs, Hama and Deir Azzour after sunset on Monday, when the truce brokered by Russia and Pindostan was due to begin. Hopes for the deal had been low over the weekend, with opposition groups insisting that none of its proponents could force each other to comply on contested issues, such as which areas remain valid bombing targets, or who should receive aid. Speaking in Washington, Jackass Kerry said early reports spoke of some reduction of violence as well as sporadic fighting, but that it was “far too early to draw definitive conclusions.” He said:
There will be undoubtedly be reports of violations here and there and that’s the nature of ceasefires. For all the doubts that exist, and there will be many challenges in the days to come, despite that, this plan has a chance to work.
In his remarks, Jackass suggested the Assad regime would be able to conduct airstrikes against Nusra, if it had Russian and Pindosi approval. However, that was later denied by Adm (Retd) Kirby, who said:
The arrangement announced last week makes no provision whatsoever for Pindostan and Russia to approve strikes by the Syrian regime, and this is not something we could ever envision doing. A primary purpose of this agreement, from our perspective, is to prevent the Syrian regime air force from flying or striking in any areas in which the opposition or Nusra are present. The purpose of the JIC, if and when it is established, would be to coordinate military action between Pindostan and Russia, not for any other party.
Jackass applauded opposition groups for showing the “courage” to separate themselves from Nusra, which has declared itself officially separated from AQ, but which is considered by Pindostan still to be an AQ affiliate. Jackass warned other groups to disengage from Nusra units on the front. He said:
We can’t somehow adopt the moral hazard of just because they fight fiercely say, oh, we’re going to somehow allow AQ to be the tip of our spear with respect to Assad. (That would be) crazy and ultimately self-destructive. It is not advisable for the opposition, who have support from countries that are threatened by Nusra, to be playing with Nusra. That is a losing proposition. We have made it clear … If they choose to join with Nusra in attacks, then they have made the choice of being with Nusra, and they run the risks.
Russia insisted it would keep its jets away from opposition areas which did not coexist with Nusra. It had also lobbied unsuccessfully for Ahrar al-Sham and Jaish al-Islam to be added to the list. The question of which opposition areas are still considered valid targets is central to the wariness of opposition groups, particularly in Aleppo and Idlib province. Salem al-Muslet, spokesman for the High Negotiations Committee, Syria’s main opposition organisation:
We want to know what the guarantees are. What is the definition that has been chosen for ‘terrorism’?
At the end of the first day of Eid al-Adha, the Syrian military announced it was ceasing operations. Turkey, Iran and Hezbollah had earlier voiced cautious support for the ceasefire. After spending the past year bolstering Assad by bombing groups and rebel communities opposing him, Russia has emerged as the main proponent of the ceasefire. It has pledged to open aid lines to besieged areas such as opposition-held east Aleppo, and to spare rebel communities if they disentangle themselves from Jihadis. Ahead of the ceasefire, Assad said on Monday that his government was determined to “reclaim every area from the terrorists, and to rebuild” the country. Assad spoke to the state news agency Sana during a rare public appearance on the streets of Daraya, a Damascus suburb that surrendered to government authority last month. He said:
We call on all Syrians to turn toward reconciliation.
Opposition groups were reportedly meeting in various parts of Syria on Monday night. Ahead of the truce, most had been wary about what it would mean, arguing there was no way to force the Syrian regime to comply, and little incentive for its backers not to use a lull to press home an advantage on the battlefield. Nevertheless, most groups are expected to cautiously endorse the pact. It follows the failure of three earlier agreements. One was an attempted ceasefire, while two others fell over at the negotiation table. If the ceasefire does take hold, both Moscow and Washington have said they will open a joint command centre, which will agree on future targets. Syrian and Russian planes have taken an immense toll on civilian infrastructure since the start of the Russian intervention, with hospitals, market places and schools regularly targeted. Opposition groups have insisted that Russia intended to bomb them towards the negotiation table, but claimed they could not sit down with Syrian officials or their backers from a weakened position.
Pindostan may approve Assad strikes in ceasefire
AP, Sep 13 2016
Pindostan and Russia could approve Syrian government air strikes as part of a new nationwide ceasefire, Jackass Kerry said on Monday, coming closer than any Pindo boxtop has to suggesting indirect cooperation with Assad since Syria’s civil war started five years ago. Jackass said Assad’s forces aren’t supposed to bomb Syria’s opposition any longer because of the truce that began at sundown Monday, however he said the government could continue going after Nusra in certain, unspecified areas. If calm holds after seven days, Pindostan and Russia would then co-operate on how to jointly combat Nusra. Pindostan has never previously spoken of approving military operations by Assad. Quoth Jackass:
Assad is not supposed to be bombing the opposition, because there is a ceasefire. Now he is allowed … to target Nusra, but that will be on strikes that are agreed upon with Russia and Pindostan in order to go after them.
Jackass implored all of Syria’s warring sides to adhere to the ceasefire. He said there has been a reduction in violence in its first hours and that it offers an opportunity for peace. But in Aleppo, an opposition media activist said government helicopters dropped crude barrel bombs on a contested neighbourhood. A doctor reported heavy shelling along the Castello road where supplies are expected to go through to reach rebel-held parts of Aleppo. The doctor spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of retribution. Adm (Retd) Kirby said that Pindostan wouldn’t co-operate with Assad. He said:
There is going to be cooperation and coordination with Russia.