World powers agree to end Syria hostilities

World powers today agreed an ambitious plan to cease hostilities in war-torn Syria, but the Munich deal left out the Islamic State group and al-Qaeda's local branch, leaving analysts to doubt its viability.

AFP| Updated: Feb 13, 2016, 09:53 AM IST
World powers agree to end Syria hostilities

Munich: World powers today agreed an ambitious plan to cease hostilities in war-torn Syria, but the Munich deal left out the Islamic State group and al-Qaeda's local branch, leaving analysts to doubt its viability.

The 17 countries agreed "to implement a nationwide cessation of hostilities to begin in a target of one week's time," said US Secretary of State John Kerry after extended talks co-hosted by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.

The International Syria Support Group also agreed that "sustained delivery" of aid will begin this week, with a new UN task force meeting later today in Geneva to start pushing for much greater access to "besieged and hard-to-reach areas".

The deal went further than expected, with Lavrov talking about "direct contacts between the Russian and US military" on the ground.

But Kerry said they were under "no illusions" about the difficulty of implementing the agreement. Analysts were sceptical the deal would stop the bloodshed.

"It is ambitious and yet very tenuous... there are huge question marks," said Julien Barnes-Dacey, of the European Council on Foreign Relations.

He highlighted the fact that the Islamic State group (IS) and al-Qaeda affiliate al-Nusra would not be covered by the "cessation of hostilities".

The failure to include al-Nusra was particularly important, Barnes-Dacey said, since the group is active in Aleppo and surrounding regions, and many of the more "moderate" rebels have links with it.

"In many ways this Munich meeting was thrust to the fore by the situation in Aleppo, and yet the conditions of the agreement do not seem to apply to Aleppo," said Barnes-Dacey.

"Talking about Nusra works in Russia's favour as so many rebel groups have ties to Nusra. This effectively gives the green light for the Syrian government and its allies to carry on military action while paying lip service to the agreement."

A senior Russian foreign affairs official appeared to support the doubts, saying he was "not very optimistic" about a ceasefire.

"Despite the agreement, Russia will continue its anti-terrorist military operation," Vladimir Djabarov, vice-president of Russia's foreign affairs commission told the TASS news agency.

"There are too many groups that claim they are anti- government or anti-Assad when many are clearly terrorist groups," he said.

Peace talks collapsed earlier this month after troops loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, backed by Russian bombers and Iranian fighters, launched a major offensive on the key rebel stronghold of Aleppo.

The bombardments have forced at least 50,000 people to flee, left the opposition virtually encircled and killed an estimated 500 people since they began on February 1 -- the latest hellish twist in a war that has claimed more than a quarter-million lives.