US and Russia reach ‘provisional’ deal on truce terms for Syria

John Kerry says hostilities could end ‘in days’ as he agrees ceasefire terms with Lavrov

US secretary of state John Kerry speaks during a joint news conference with Jordan’s foreign minister Nasser Judeh in Amman on Sunday. Photograph: Muhammad Hamed/Reuters.

US secretary of state John Kerry speaks during a joint news conference with Jordan’s foreign minister Nasser Judeh in Amman on Sunday. Photograph: Muhammad Hamed/Reuters.

 

US Secretary of State John Kerry said yesterday a provisional agreement had been reached with his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov on terms for a cessation of hostilities in Syria. His declaration preceded suicide bombings that killed 57 in Homs and 30 near a Shia shrine southeast of Damascus. Moscow and Washington “are filling out the details . . . we are closer to a ceasefire than we have been. [A truce] could begin in the coming days, ” Kerry said.

He expects remaining issues to be resolved when US president Barack Obama and Russian president Vladimir Putin speak this week.

Mr Kerry’s announcement coincided with a declaration by Syrian president Bashar al-Assad that he is prepared for a ceasefire to end the five-year war if “terrorists” are not permitted to take advantage from a suspension of fighting and governments seeking his ousting halt support for insurgents.

The Saudi-sponsored opposition Syrian Higher Negotiations Committee has also stated it would accept the “possibility” of a temporary ceasefire provided Russia halted air strikes on insurgents, sieges were lifted, and access granted for humanitarian aid deliveries.

Ceasefire

Security Council

Moscow dispatched defence minister Sergei Shoigu to Tehran to “discuss the situation in the region” with Iranian defence minister Hosein Dehghan. If the ceasefire goes into effect the two men will have to agree on when and where to halt to Russian air action and Syrian army ground operations backed by Iranian military advisers.

The attack on the Saida Zeinab shrine containing the tomb of the granddaughter of the prophet Muhammad was the second since January, while the Homs bombing targeted the pro-government Zahra district for the third time in three months.

Previous Saida Zeinab strikes killed 70, and the Zahra bombings killed 48. Islamic State, also known as Isis, has claimed these attacks.

Offensive

Aleppo

Since December the Syrian army has encircled Aleppo city, cut insurgent supply lines to the Turkish border, advanced to the border of the Turkish province of Hatay in the north east, and contained insurgent fighters in the Damascus suburbs and in Deraa in the south.

As Syrian army gains on the battlefield could strengthen the government’s position once peace talks resume in Geneva, the US, which supports the HNC, has pressed for an early truce. Russia had proposed a ceasefire on March 1st, presumably after Damascus’ military objectives had been achieved but Moscow now seems ready accommodate Washington.

Both are under serious pressure to put an end to the five-year conflict from Ankara which threatens to intervene on the ground in Syria to combat “terrorist” attacks in Turkey. Turkey’s president Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said: “No one can restrict Turkey’s right to self-defence in the face of terror acts that have targeted Turkey.”