Change your style

Saturday, 10 September 2016

Syrian conflict: US and Russia agree peace moves

Russia and the US have agreed to coordinate air strikes against Islamist militants in Syria, part of a detailed agreement to reduce the violence there.
The plan will begin with a "cessation of hostilities" from sunset on Monday. Syrian forces will end combat missions in specified opposition-held areas.
Russia and the US will then establish a joint centre to combat jihadist groups, including so-called Islamic State (IS).
A Syrian opposition coalition has cautiously welcomed the agreement.
"We hope this will be the beginning of the end of the civilians' ordeal," said Bassma Kodmani, a spokeswoman for the High Negotiations Committee.
"We welcome the deal if it is going to be enforced."
The announcement follows talks in Geneva between US Secretary of State John Kerry and his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov.
The plan would need both the regime and opposition "to meet their obligations", Mr Kerry said.
The opposition had indicated it was prepared to comply with the plan, he said, provided the Syrian government "shows it is serious".
Mr Lavrov said Russia had informed the Syrian government about the arrangements and the Syrian government was "ready to fulfil them"
The accord also provides for humanitarian access.
"The cessation of hostilities requires access to all besieged and hard-to-reach areas, including Aleppo," Mr Kerry said.
Seven days after the start of the cessation of hostilities, Russia and the US will establish a "joint implementation centre" to fight IS and another main group, Jabhat Fateh al-Sham.
Jabhat Fateh al-Sham used to be known as the Nusra Front but changed its name in June and announced it was cutting ties with al-Qaeda.
Mr Lavrov said the joint implementation centre would allow Russian and US forces to "separate the terrorists from the moderate opposition".
He said the Russian and US air forces would carry out co-ordinated strikes against the two groups, and that in some areas, that excluded action by the Syrian air force.
"We have agreed on the areas where such co-ordinated strikes would be taking place, and in those areas, on neutral agreement shared by the Syrian government as well, only the Russian and US air force will be functional," he said.
But Mr Lavrov added that "the Syrian air force will be functional in other areas, outside those that we have singled out for Russian-American military co-operation".

A complex plan

In this photo provided by the Syrian Civil Defence White Helmets, men stand in rubble after airstrikes hit eastern Aleppo, Syria, Friday, 9 September 2016.Image copyrightAP

By James Landale, BBC diplomatic correspondent, in Geneva

Much depends on America's ability to get opposition groups to distance themselves from their more extremist allies, and on Russia's ability to restrain Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's forces.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Damascus had said it would fulfil its obligations.
But this is a complex plan and depends on all sides doing what has been agreed.
A deal in Geneva does not always become a reality on the ground.

Mr Lavrov and Mr Kerry stressed that the plan could pave the way for a political transition.
"The plan is more prescriptive and far-reaching than any proposal to date and, if implemented by all sides, could allow political negotiations to take place on Syria's future," Mr Kerry said.
The United Nations envoy to Syria, Staffan de Mistura, welcomed the agreement and said the UN would exert all efforts to deliver humanitarian aid.
Syrian rescue workers search for victims through the rubble of a building destroyed during air bombing in eastern Aleppo. Photo: 27 August 2016Image copyrightAFP
Image captionFighting between Syria's army and rebels for control of eastern Aleppo escalated in recent weeks

'Apex of horror'

Fighting has recently escalated between Syria's army and rebels in eastern Aleppo, where 250,000 people live.
On Sunday, Syrian government forces were reported to have recaptured parts of Aleppo which were lost to rebels last month, placing rebel-held districts in the city's east once again under siege.
Mr de Mistura warned earlier on Friday that food and water shortages made the situation in Aleppo even more serious than previously, and that fuel supplies could run out within days.
UN humanitarian chief Stephen O'Brien told the BBC conditions in Aleppo had become appalling: "Eastern Aleppo is at the apex of horror, where any one of us, if we were there, would find life barely possible, let alone tolerable."
The US and Russia support opposite sides in the conflict that began in 2011: Washington backs a coalition of rebel groups it describes as moderate, while Moscow is seen as a key ally of President Assad.