Newspaper article Charleston Gazette Mail

Syria Talks May See Temporary 'Cessation of Hostilities' in a Week

Newspaper article Charleston Gazette Mail

Syria Talks May See Temporary 'Cessation of Hostilities' in a Week

Article excerpt

MUNICH - Diplomats trying to secure a ceasefire for the civil war in Syria fell short early today in organizing a truce but agreed to try to work out details and implement a temporary "cessation of hostilities in a week's time. The deal appeared to be the result of a compromise between the United States, 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, U.S. 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 honor those commitments and implement them, he told reporters after the nearly six-hour meeting at a Munich hotel, which ran into the early hours today.

While humanitarian access - to be discussed by a working group today in Geneva - 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 U.N.-set target date of Feb. 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.

Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said the U.S. and Russia would co-chair both the working group on humanitarian aid as well as a task force that will try to deal with the "modalities of the temporary truce. That task force will include members of the military along with representatives from countries that are supporting various armed groups in Syria. The Syrian government and the opposition would both have to agree to the details.

Russia had proposed the March 1 ceasefire date, which the U.S. and others saw as a ploy to give Moscow and the Syrian army three more weeks to try to crush Western- and Arab-backed rebels. The U.S. countered with demands for an immediate stop to the fighting.

Despite apparent concessions on potential timing of the truce and the agreement to set up the task force, the U.S., Russia and others remain far apart on which groups should be eligible for it. …

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