Syrian Army Says Cease-fire Will Start at Midnight

syria-ceasefire-begins-midnight-12292016

A cease-fire will take effect across much of Syria from midnight Thursday, the Syrian army announced.

In a statement posted to the state-run Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA), the military declared a “comprehensive” cessation of hostilities following “victories and advances” by Syria’s armed forces.

But it said the deal excluded “terrorist organizations” including the country’s al-Qaeda affiliate, now a key component of what remains of Syria’s armed opposition. The caveat suggested that the fighting could continue in key swaths of the country.

The rebels’ most important stronghold, east Aleppo, fell earlier this month to a coalition of forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. That victory is likely to be seen as a milestone in Syria’s five-and-a-half-year war.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, one of Assad’s most important backers, announced earlier Thursday that agreements on a cease-fire have been reached with the Syrian government, certain Syrian rebel groups, Iran and Turkey. Notably absent from the peace process was the United States.

Speaking at a televised meeting with his defense and foreign ministers Thursday, Putin said three documents were signed: a cease-fire to begin Friday between the Syrian government and certain rebel groups, an agreement on monitoring the cease-fire and a statement of readiness to begin peace talks. Turkey and Russia would act as guarantors of the cease-fire, Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov did not mention President Obama in his remarks, instead inviting the incoming Trump administration to join the process after the president-elect’s inauguration.

“I would also like to express my hope that when the administration of Donald Trump assumes its responsibilities, they may also join these efforts in order to work toward this goal in a friendly and collective manner,” Lavrov said during the meeting.

According to a partial transcript of the meeting with Putin, Shoigu also said that Russia was ready to begin drawing down its deployment in Syria, which consists of several dozen fixed-wing aircraft, along with helicopters, ships and special forces soldiers.

“All conditions have been created for the reduction of the Russian group in Syria,” Shoigu said, without elaborating on how large the force reduction could be or which forces may be withdrawn.

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SOURCE: The Washington Post, Louisa Loveluck and Andrew Roth