Syria Deal Focuses on Aid, Halting War as Terror Fight Continues

  • U.S., Russia to coordinate delivery of humanitarian assistance
  • Proposed truce accord excludes Islamic State, al-Nusra

The Munich agreement to try to halt fighting in Syria and deliver aid to beleaguered civilians marks a significant step in efforts to resolve the five-year conflict that’s killed some 260,000 people. It includes a truce due to take effect in one week.

The accord was adopted unanimously late Thursday by the International Syria Support Group (ISSG) that includes the U.S., Russia, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, other Middle East and Gulf nations, the European Union and China. They pledged to use their influence on the Syrian government and opposition groups to secure implementation.

Will the deal hold?

There’s a great deal of caution and skepticism. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry called the cessation of hostilities a “pause,” and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said it’ll be “difficult” to achieve a lasting cease-fire. Sharif Shehadeh, a Syrian lawmaker loyal to President Bashar al-Assad, said he’s “not optimistic” about the agreement, while Haitham Afisi, deputy chief of staff of the rebel Free Syrian Army, called a cease-fire “unacceptable” unless the opposition achieves its demands.

What’s in it for Putin?

President Vladimir Putin tipped the military balance in Assad’s favor with Russia’s five-month bombing campaign in Syria, while drawing strong criticism from the U.S. and the European Union that airstrikes were hitting opposition groups backed by the West and not terrorists. By making himself indispensable in resolving a war that’s triggered Europe’s worst migrant crisis since World War II, Putin may be gambling that he can win an easing of EU and U.S. sanctions over the conflict in Ukraine.

Russia backed the talks because it doesn’t want to be “demonized” as an aggressor, though “the cease-fire won’t last,” said Frants Klintsevich, deputy chairman of the defense and security committee in the upper house of Russia’s parliament. Cooperating on a peace deal may help ease tensions with the U.S. and the EU, he said.

Will it stem the flow of refugees?

Not by itself. It’s too early to know if Assad’s forces and opposition groups will stop fighting and whether any truce can be made to hold. Negotiations involving the Syrian government and opposition groups over a political resolution to the conflict resume in Geneva on Feb. 25 after breaking down last week.

The U.S. and “the majority” of ISSG members believe “there will not be peace in Syria if Assad is determined to stay,” Kerry told reporters early Friday. Russia insists that’s a matter for Syrians to decide.

Who’s covered by the truce?

It will “apply to any party currently engaged in military or paramilitary hostilities against any other parties” in Syria, except Islamic State, al-Nusra and groups “designated as terrorist organizations” by the United Nations Security Council. A task force led jointly by the U.S. and Russia under UN auspices will work to establish the truce with ISSG member states that have “influence on the armed opposition groups or forces fighting in support of the Syrian government.”

What about Islamic State and al-Nusra?

Russia, the U.S. and French forces will continue airstrikes against them. The task force created to secure the truce in Syria will also identify territory held by Islamic State and al-Nusra where it won’t apply.

Who’ll get help and how?

Air drops of humanitarian aid will begin within days to civilians in the city of Deir ez-Zor, under siege from Islamic State, as well as land deliveries to people in the towns of Fouah, Kefraya, Madaya, Moadamiya and Kafr Batna. A UN task force charged with implementing the aid agreement will convene in Geneva Friday and report on progress at weekly meetings.

How will aid workers gain access?

Members of the ISSG committed to use their influence with groups fighting in Syria to ensure all sides allow “immediate and sustained humanitarian access to reach all people in need,” according to the agreement.

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