Syrian opposition agrees conditional ceasefire but talks delayed again

Syrian opposition agrees conditional ceasefire but talks delayed again
4 min read
20 February, 2016
Syrian rebels would accept a temporary truce if Russia halts airstrikes, but developments on Saturday suggest ceasefire talks have been delayed as West, Moscow continued to wrangle.
Turkey has called for a joint ground operation in Syria [Getty]
Syria's opposition on Saturday said it had agreed to the "possibility" of a temporary truce, provided there were guarantees Damascus's allies including Russia would cease fire, sieges were lifted and aid deliveries are allowed, a statement from the High Negotiations Committee said.

The High Negotiations Committee, which joins various armed groups and Syria's exiled political opposition, said the UN must guarantee "holding Russia and Iran and sectarian militias ... to a halt to fighting". All sides should cease fire simultaneously and the government should release prisoners, it added.

A source close to peace talks earlier on Saturday told Reuters Syria's opposition had agreed to a two- to three-week truce.

However, Russia has now said UN-led talks planned for Saturday between major international players on establishing a ceasefire in Syria had been postponed.

Foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova told Russian news agencies that the meeting in Geneva had been put back to an unspecified later date as "consultations" between key nations continued.

Military and diplomatic officials from Russia and the United States held talks on Friday to try to hammer out the details of a possible ceasefire, as a hoped for halt in hostilities on the ground failed to materialise.

That sit down was supposed to pave the way for a broader meeting after the 17 key international players involved in negotiations to end the Syrian conflict agreed on Jan. 12
that a ceasefire should come into force within a week.

A ceasefire set to begin on March 1 looks increasingly unlikely as major differences remain among key players in Syria
Russia snubbed at the UN

Western powers on Friday rejected a Russian bid at the United Nations to halt Turkey's military actions in Syria, as France warned of a dangerous escalation in the nearly five-year conflict.

France along with the US and Britain vetoed the Russian draft UN resolution to call for Syria's sovereignty to be respected, for cross-border shelling and incursions to be halted and for "attempts or plans for foreign ground intervention" to be abandoned.

France said Moscow's backing of the Syrian regime has led to a dangerous escalation in the war.

"We are facing a dangerous military escalation that could easily get out of control and lead us to uncharted territory," French Ambassador Francois Delattre said ahead of the Security Council meeting.

Meanwhile US President Barack Obama, in a phone call with Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, urged the Ankara government and Kurdish YPG forces to "show reciprocal restraint" in northern Syria.

Russia called the emergency council meeting to present a draft text that "strongly demands" an immediate end to cross-border shellings and plans for foreign ground intervention in Syria.

Turkey has called for a joint ground operation in Syria with its international allies, insisting it is the only way to stop the country's nearly five-year war.

Asked whether he thought the council would endorse the Russian draft resolution, Delattre said: "The short answer is 'no'."

Russia, which has been carrying out air raids in support of Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad's forces, has called on the council to press Turkey to halt its shelling of Kurdish forces in northern Syria.

But the French ambassador argued that the escalation was the "direct result of the brutal offensive in the north of Syria led by the Syrian regime and its allies.

"Russia must understand that its unconditional support to Bashar al-Assad is a dead-end and a dead-end that could be extremely dangerous," said Delattre.

Russia on Saturday expressed regret that UN had rejected its bid and vowed to continue supporting the Assad regime against "terrorists".

"We can only express regret that this draft resolution was rejected," Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.

He said Moscow was "concerned at the growing tension at the Syrian-Turkish border.

The closed-door meeting of the Security Council came as international efforts to negotiate a ceasefire and re-start peace talks stumbled.

The UN peace envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, said a new round of peace talks scheduled for February 25 was unlikely.

With agencies.