Ceasefire agreed upon in Syria

  • 12/02/2016
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov (left), US Secretary of State John Kerry (centre) and UN special envoy on Syria Staffan de Mistura (Getty)
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov (left), US Secretary of State John Kerry (centre) and UN special envoy on Syria Staffan de Mistura (Getty)

By Matthew Lee

Diplomats have agreed to work toward a temporary "cessation of hostilities" in Syria's civil war within a week, although efforts to secure a lasting ceasefire fell short.

The deal appeared to be the result of a compromise between the US, which had wanted an immediate ceasefire, and Russia, which had proposed one to start on March 1.

Although foreign ministers from the International Syria Support Group managed to seal an agreement to "accelerate and expand" deliveries of humanitarian aid to besieged Syrian communities beginning this week, their failure to agree on a ceasefire leaves the most critical step to resuming peace talks unresolved. It was not clear from their comments afterward if deep differences regarding the truce and which groups would be eligible for it could be overcome.

Speaking for the group, US Secretary of State John Kerry hailed the results as a significant accomplishment but noted that a cessation-of-hostilities agreement, if it can be achieved, would only be a "pause" in fighting and that more work would need to be done to turn it into a fully-fledged ceasefire.

He also allowed that the agreements made were "commitments on paper" only.

"The real test is whether or not all the parties honour those commitments and implement them," he told reporters after the nearly six-hour meeting at a Munich hotel, which ran into the early hours of Friday (local time).

Dramatising the high-stakes nature of the Munich talks was Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev's statement that a full-scale ground operation in Syria could result in a world war.

"A ground operation draws everyone taking part in it into a war," Medvedev was quoted as saying in an interview published by the German newspaper Handelsblatt.

When asked about a recent proposal from Saudi Arabia to send in ground troops to Syria, the prime minister answered that "the Americans and our Arab partners must consider whether or not they want a permanent war".

Medvedev criticised Western powers' refusal to collaborate with Russia in Syria. The prime minister said ties at the level of defence departments are only sporadic.

Meanwhile, humanitarian access to the battle-scarred country was to be discussed by a working group on Friday in Geneva.

It is key to relieving the suffering of millions of Syrians in the short term, a durable and lasting ceasefire will be required if stalled negotiations between Syrian President Bashar Assad's government and the opposition are to resume on or before a UN-set target date of February 25.

The talks broke down last month before they really started, due largely to gains by Assad's military with the heavy backing of Russian airstrikes.

Five years of conflict have killed more than a quarter-million people, created Europe's biggest refugee crisis since World War II and allowed the Islamic State to carve out its own territory across parts of Syria and neighbouring Iraq.