(GPA) Ankara – Russian President Vladimir Putin has confirmed the signing of a formal ceasefire between Russia, Syria and multiple rebel groups fighting the Assad government.
The ceasefire goes into effect tonight at 12 midnight local time and includes the Syrian government, Iranian and Russian forces as well as opposition groups that account for about 60,000 fighters. The groups involved on the rebel side include Feilak al-Sham, Jaysh al-Islam, Thuwar al-Sham, Jaysh al-Mujahideen, Jaysh Idlib, Jabhat al-Shamiyah and the controversial (as well as largest with 16,000 members) Ahrar al-Sham. Ahrar al-Sham was one of the largest groups operating in Aleppo before the liberation last week and has previously fought alongside Jahbat al-Nusra when they were openly an al-Qaeda affiliate. Ahrar al-Sham is also already considered a terrorist group by Russia’s government.
These groups are all deployed in multiple provinces of Syria so their inclusion covers vast territory. Groups not included according to Syrian forces are the ones universally recognized as terrorists by the United Nations. This includes the Islamic State and supposedly Jahbat al-Nusra, now known as Jabhat Fateh al-Sham. The claim that al-Nusra is excluded hasn’t yet been confirmed with conflicting reports coming from some media outlets. According to some reports, rebel spokesman have said that al-Nusra would be included. Many of the groups mentioned above have fought alongside al-Nusra in the past and may still be intermingled with them in areas affected by the ceasefire. This causes some concern that an attack on known terrorists could lead to other groups seeing this as a violation.
The public relations arm of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) says they they weren’t contacted by Russia, Syria or Turkey and had yet to be invited to participate in any talks. This may be partially true but individual commanders of groups under the FSA umbrella, such as the Syrian National Coalition (SNC) have come forward and said they would respect the ceasefire if Syrian troops did.
This is the third nationwide ceasefire this year but the first to not include the United States although Turkey filling that role may be crucial due to their close ties to many of the rebel groups included in this deal. The last ceasefires failed amid accusations of violations by both sides and the second ceasefire peaking with the unresolved destruction of a Red Crescent aid convoy. Vladimir putin acknowledged these types of agreements are, by nature, “fragile” and “need a special attention and involvement…But after all, this is a notable result of our joint work, efforts by the defense and foreign ministries, our partners in the regions.” Russia has also agreed to reduce their military presence in Syria.
The deal will be monitored by Russia, who will keep tabs on the Syrian government side and by Turkey via their close connections to many of the rebel groups. Turkey also called on other countries with influence over the rebel – most likely implying several of the gulf states – groups to help encourage them to stick to the ceasefire.
The ceasefire has potential to succeed since there is a planned conference to negotiate a peaceful end to the Syrian conflict in the near future, to be held in Kazakhstan. Multiple countries will be represented at this conference including Turkey, despite calls for Assad’s resignation by Turkey’s President Erdogan and other Turkish officials saying he should not be allowed in the peace process. The US has not been invited although Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov says they may extend an invitation to US officials once president elect Donald Trump takes office next month if he comes in the spirit of cooperation.