ANKARA, DEC 29 – Russian President Vladimir Putin announced a ceasefire between Syrian opposition groups and the Syrian government starting at midnight on Thursday.
The Kremlin statement came after Moscow, Iran and Turkey said they were ready to broker a peace deal in the nearly six-year-old Syrian war.
The Syrian army announced a nationwide halt to fighting but said Daesh and ex-Nusra Front militants and all groups linked to them would be excluded from the deal. It did not say which unnamed groups would be excluded.
Several rebel officials told Reuters they had agreed to the ceasefire plan, but there was uncertainty over which groups were included in the deal, which was due to come into effect at 2200 GMT on Thursday.
Talks on a ceasefire picked up momentum after Russia, Iran and Turkey last week said they were ready to back a deal and adopted a declaration setting out principles that any agreement should adhere to.
Putin said Syrian opposition groups and the Syrian government had signed a number of documents including the ceasefire that would take effect at midnight on the night of Dec 29-30.
“The agreements reached are, of course, fragile, need a special attention and involvement… But after all, this is a notable result of our joint work, efforts by the defence and foreign ministries, our partners in the regions,” Putin said.
He also said that Russia had agreed to reduce its military deployment in Syria.
The United States has been sidelined in recent negotiations and is not due to attend the next round of peace talks in Astana, capital of Kazakhstan, a key Russian ally.
Its exclusion reflects growing frustration from both Turkey and Russia over Washington’s policy on Syria, officials have said.
However, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said the United States could join the peace process once President-elect Donald Trump takes office.
Talks towards a ceasefire to end the conflict reflect the complexity of Syria’s civil war, with an array of groups and foreign interests involved on all sides.
The deal by Turkey and Russia to act as guarantors in the war comes despite their support of different sides in the civil war. Ankara has insisted on the departure of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who is backed by Russia.
Likewise, demands that troops from Hezbollah leave Syria may not sit well with Iran, another major supporter of Assad. Hezbollah troops have been fighting alongside Syrian government forces against rebels opposed to Assad.
“All foreign fighters need to leave Syria. Hezbollah needs to return to Lebanon,” Turkish foreign minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said.
Sources have told Reuters that, under an outline deal between the three countries, Syria could be divided into informal zones of regional power and Assad would remain president for at least a few years.