US, Russia reach Syria ceasefire deal

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US President Donald Trump speaks during a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin at the G20 Summit in Hamburg on July 7, 2017. Photo: AP

The United States and Russia have agreed to a ceasefire in southwest Syria. US officials confirmed that an understanding had been reached, shortly after President Donald Trump held his first meeting with President Vladimir Putin.

The deal marks a new level of involvement for the US in trying to resolve Syria’s civil war. According to American officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity, the ceasefire is set to take effect on Sunday at noon. Additional details about the agreement and how it will be implemented weren’t immediately available.

Jordan and Israel are also reportedly part of the agreement. The two US allies both share a border with the southern part of Syria and have been concerned about violence spilling over.

Friday’s deal is separate from the ‘de-escalation zones’ that were to be created under an agreement brokered by Russia, Turkey and Iran earlier this year. The US was not a party to that deal.

Follow-up talks, which took place this week in Kazakhstan, broke up having failed to progress. Previous ceasefires in Syria have collapsed or failed to reduce violence, and it was unclear whether Friday’s deal would prove more durable.

Earlier in the week, Syria’s military unilaterally halted its combat operations in the the Daraa, Quneitra and Sweida Governorates. That ceasefire was set to run for four days, in advance of a new round of Russia-sponsored talks in Astana.

Syria’s government has briefly extended that ceasefire, which is now set to expire on Saturday – a day before the southern deal would take effect.

Open-ended Agreement 

The new agreement will be open-ended, one US official said, describing it as part of broader discussions with Russia. Officials said that Washington and Moscow were still working out the details as Trump and Putin concluded their more-than-two-hour meeting.

The United States and Russia have been backing opposing sides in Syria’s war, with Moscow supporting Syrian President Bashar Assad and Washington supporting rebels who have been fighting Assad. Both the US and Russia oppose ISIS.

The US has been wary of letting Iran gain influence in Syria – a concern shared by Israel and Jordan, neither of which wants Iranian troops and proxies amassing near their territories. A US-brokered deal could help the Trump administration retain influence over who fills the power vacuum left behind as ISIS is routed.

Though US and Russian officials had been discussing a potential deal for some time, it didn’t reach fruition until  Trump’s meeting with Putin on the sidelines of the G20 economic summit.

High on the Agenda

Before Trump’s meeting with Putin – his first with the Russian leader – Secretary of State Rex Tillerson signaled that Syria’s civil war would be high on the agenda. Tillerson said in a statement before departing for Germany that Washington remained open to cooperating with Russia through “joint mechanisms,” potentially including no-fly zones.

“If our two countries work together to establish stability on the ground, it will lay a foundation for progress on the settlement of Syria’s political future,” Tillerson said on Wednesday.

Moscow reacted angrily when the US downed a Syrian jet last week. The warplane was fired upon  after it dropped its payload near the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces.

Russia then warned that its military would track aircraft from the US-led coalition as potential targets over Syria and also suspended a hotline intended to avoid mid-air incidents.

Source: AP and ARA Staff

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