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12 Sep, 2016 15:00

Syria ceasefire begins, Damascus says will last 7 days

The Russian and US-brokered nationwide ceasefire in Syria has come into effect, beginning at 7pm Damascus time (16:00 GMT) on Monday. The Russian Defense Ministry says Moscow and the US will create joint center to define terrorist targets.

The start time of the truce was confirmed by Lieutenant General Sergey Rudskoy, chief of the main operations department of the Russian General Staff.

In accordance with these agreements, the cessation of hostilities on the entire territory of the Syrian Arab Republic resumes today, starting at 7pm Moscow time. The Russian side has completed all the necessary preparations for its [ceasefire] compliance,” Rudskoy announced.

He went on to say that Russia has “all the necessary capabilities” for monitoring the ceasefire situation in Syria. The Russian Reconciliation Center in Syria has established special monitoring groups in all Syrian provinces to observe the cessation of hostilities.

The respective information on the state of the agreement would be provided to reporters for “objective coverage of the real situation.”

The Russian Defense Ministry noted that airstrikes against terrorist groups such as Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) and Al-Nusra Front will go ahead, since they are not part of the brokered agreement.

According to Moscow, a joint US-Russian coordination center will be established to decide on airstrikes conducted by US-led coalition planes and the Russian Air Force. 

The creation of the center was announced by Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and his US counterpart John Kerry in Geneva last Friday.

Rudskoy went on to say that contact between the Russian Reconciliation Center in Syria and the US monitoring group in Amman, Jordan, should be reinstated.

The Russian Defense Ministry has urged one of the key opposition groups, the Free Syrian Army, to stop military action against Kurdish units near Aleppo in order to aid the ceasefire. The Kurdish forces are seen as one of the most effective powers on the ground fighting terrorists.

The so-called moderate Syrian opposition has issued a statement backing the ceasefire, TASS reports, citing the Al-Arabiya news channel. However, according to the rebel forces the expulsion of Jabhat Fateh al-Sham (formerly Al-Nusra Front) from the deal “diminishes the chances of success for the agreement reached.”

Following the negotiations between Lavrov and Kerry, Washington urged the opposition forces it has been backing to stick to the deal announced in Geneva last Friday.

Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov, however, expressed disappointment that not all moderate rebel groups had followed the call to abide by the cessation of hostilities. In particular, he noted that the largest of the forces, Ahrar al-Sham, “has refused to break with their ‘comrades’ from the Jabhat Fateh al-Sham.”

With airstrikes against the terrorists set to continue, Russia has still not received information from the US on the exact locations of Al-Nusra Front militants, said the chief of the Russian Reconciliation Center in Syria, Lieutenant General Vladimir Savchenko.

I want to stress that the fact that the US has still not provided information allowing the identification of the exact operational places of Jebhat al-Nusra in the combat areas is hampering the fruitful joint work on the cessation of hostilities.

Syrian President Bashar Assad said on state TV on Monday that he is determined to drive out terrorists from all the territories they have seized. “The Syrian state is determined to recover every area from the terrorists,” he said.

The Syrian government has also given its “strict consent” for observation of the ceasefire, the Russian Reconciliation Center reported.

Damascus says it will observe a seven-day ceasefire, TASS reports, citing Syrian local media. The initial 48-hour truce is crucial for delivering aid to the civilian population, especially in Aleppo.

"Key tasks for the reconciliation center in the period of introduction of the ceasefire regime are to ensure humanitarian deliveries, first of all to western and eastern districts of the city of Aleppo,” Savchenko said. He also urged better cooperation on the issue with the UN and other international organizations.