Syria ceasefire deal backed by Russia and Turkey takes effect

Syria ceasefire deal backed by Russia and Turkey takes effect

BEIRUT - Reuters
Syria ceasefire deal backed by Russia and Turkey takes effect

AFP photo

A nationwide ceasefire in Syria, brokered by Russia and Turkey, which back opposing sides in the conflict, came into force at midnight local time on Dec. 30 (2200 GMT on Thursday) in the latest attempt to end nearly six years of bloodshed.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, a key ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, announced the ceasefire on Thursday after forging the agreement with Turkey, a longtime backer of the opposition. 

Monitoring group the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said calm prevailed in areas across the country included in the truce shortly after midnight, and that warring sides mostly appeared to have ceased firing. 

Some gunfire was heard in the southern provinces of Deraa and Quneitra shortly after the ceasefire took effect, the Observatory said, and reported limited clashes east of Damascus. There were no immediate reports of casualties. 

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said the United States could join the peace process once President-elect Donald Trump takes office on Jan. 20. He also wanted Egypt to join, together with Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Iraq, Jordan and the United Nations. 

A number of rebel groups have signed the agreement, Russia's Defence Ministry said. Several rebel officials acknowledged the deal, and a spokesman for the Free Syrian Army (FSA), a loose alliance of insurgent groups, said it would abide by the truce. 

One FSA commander was optimistic about the truce deal, the third serious attempt this year at a nationwide ceasefire. 

"This time I have confidence in its seriousness. There is new international input," Colonel Fares al-Bayoush said without elaborating. 

Syria's civil war, which began when a peaceful uprising descended into violence in 2011, has resulted in more than 300,000 deaths and displaced over 11 million people, half its pre-war population. 

The ceasefire, in the waning days of President Barack Obama's administration, was the first major international diplomatic initiative in the Middle East in decades not to involve the United States.