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Syrians Agree to a Cease-Fire Few at UN Expect Will Last

United Nations Special Envoy Lakhdar Brahimi
United Nations Special Envoy Lakhdar Brahimi, who’s been working on a deal for two months, said President Bashar al-Assad and some rebel groups agreed to cease fire during the Muslim Eid al-Adha festival this week. Photographer: STR/AFP/Getty Images

President Bashar al-Assad and some Syrian rebel groups agreed to a cease-fire during the Muslim Eid al-Adha festival this week, said United Nations Special Envoy Lakhdar Brahimi, who’s been working on a truce for two months.

Most groups involved in the Syrian conflict have agreed to the cease-fire, Brahimi told the Security Council today, saying he hoped it could allow space for a political transition to start even though there are no quick fixes, according to a diplomat in the room.

Syrian foreign ministry spokesman Jihad Makdessi said Brahimi’s proposal is still “being studied” by the armed forces, according to the Associated Press. Brahimi, who briefed the council by video link from Cairo, said Assad will announce his agreement tomorrow, according to the diplomat, who wasn’t authorized to speak publicly about the closed-door session.

Russia’s UN Ambassador Vitaly Churkin said he was skeptical the deal will last. There are “too many players and too many spoilers as well,” he told reporters in New York. “It’s happened before that our best hopes were not borne out.”

In Washington, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the U.S. supports the cease-fire and would like to see it lead to a political transition and a lasting end to the violence. She said she would like to see the UN Security Council adopt a “framework” to achieve those results and include “some consequences” for those who fail to abide by such a plan.

Finger Pointing

The Syrian government and opposition fighters last agreed to a halt in hostilities in April. Within days the conflict resumed as each side accused the other of failing to abide by its terms. France’s ambassador to the UN, Gerard Araud, today repeated what he said months ago when a promised cease-fire was violated: “The proof of the cake is in the eating.”

Assad’s government has been fighting a 19-month uprising that the opposition Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says has killed more than 30,000 people, and the UN has registered more than 350,000 people who have fled from their homeland. The conflict has spilled over into Lebanon and Turkey.

“The cease-fire is mostly about Eid, and I assume that it will not last very long because of the tensions on the ground,” Theodore Karasik, director of research at the Institute for Near East and Gulf Military Analysis in Dubai, said in an interview. “I don’t think it will be honored.”

Rebel Doubts

Herve Ladsous, the UN’s peacekeeping chief, said this week that the organization is making contingency plans to send a new peacekeeping force to Syria should a cease-fire take hold and pending a Security Council mandate, the Associated Press reported. The previous UN monitoring force withdrew in August.

Abdelbaset Sieda, head of the opposition Syrian National Council, said yesterday that while rebel fighters are willing to halt fighting during the holiday, they will respond if attacked, the AP reported. Sieda says he doubts the regime will honor the cease-fire and that Brahimi doesn’t have “any mechanism to observe the situation,” the AP said.

Assad declared an amnesty for rebels who lay down their arms while excluding those accused of terrorism, the state-run Sana news agency said Oct. 23. Those surrendering weapons to the Syrian authorities within a month will be pardoned and released, Sana reported, while those considered to have committed offenses under the country’s Terrorism Act will still face prosecution. The offer lasts for 30 days.

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