Assad agrees to peace deal, but doubts persist

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DAMASCUS: Syria’s regime agreed on Tuesday to a ceasefire deal announced by the United States and Russia, but there were widespread doubts that it could take effect by the weekend as hoped.

The truce agreement, announced on Monday, does not apply to militant groups like the Islamic State (IS) and Al-Nusra Front, putting up major hurdles to how it can be implemented on Syria’s complex battlefield.

A Syrian foreign ministry statement said the government would continue to fight both those groups as well as other “terrorists”, while agreeing to stop other military operations “in accordance with the Russian-American announcement”.

The deal calls for a “cessation of hostilities” between forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad and opposition groups that would take effect at midnight on Friday Damascus time. 

Main opposition group gives conditional acceptance to US-Russia accord

The High Negotiations Committee (HNC) — the leading Syrian opposition group — gave its conditional acceptance to the deal late on Monday. But after several previous failed attempts, few had serious expectations for a lasting ceasefire.

Analysts said the deal might be simply unworkable, rebels on the ground doubted the regime’s goodwill and many civilians expected their hopes to once again be dashed.

“It’s a waste of time and it’s difficult to implement on the ground,” said Abu Ibrahim, a commander in the 10th Brigade opposition force in the north-western Latakia province.

He expected “numerous rebel groups” to reject the agreement, which he said was formed “without consulting any factions on the ground”.

In Damascus, residents tired after nearly five years of war were also deeply sceptical. “It’s a fragile deal,” said Rana, a 54-year old pharmacist in the capital.                         

“Ceasefires have been announced repeatedly in the past and we didn’t see any results on the ground because they were violated,” she said.

Despite being on opposing sides of the conflict, Moscow and Washington have been leading the latest diplomatic push to try to resolve the brutal 

Both powers are pursuing separate air wars in Syria, with a US-led coalition targeting IS and occasionally other militant 

Russia says it is targeting “terrorists” in its strikes but has been accused of hitting non-jihadist groups in support of Assad, an ally.

Analysts say that given the facts on the ground — in particular the complicated make-up of Syria’s opposition forces and frequently shifting frontlines — the ceasefire may be doomed to 

While IS control over territory is relatively clear and stable, its militant rival Al-Nusra Front, the local affiliate of Al Qaeda, works closely with many other rebels groups particularly in Syria’s north.

“‘Cessation of Hostilities’ allows attacks on Nusra. That likely dooms it, since Russia and regime tend to hit others & call them Nusra (or IS),” Noah Bonsey, a senior analyst at the International Crisis Group, said on 

“To have any chance of addressing this, US/Russia must delineate Nusra areas BEFORE implementation.”

Yezid Sayigh of the Carnegie Middle East Centre said the deal presented “a serious opportunity” but “there clearly are significant obstacles and risks”.

 

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