Russia And Turkey Have Agreed On Cease-Fire For Syria, What's Next?

Dec 29, 2016
Originally published on December 30, 2016 12:25 pm
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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

Russia and Turkey say they have brokered a ceasefire in Syria. The Syrian army announced that the truce would begin tonight. Russia says this could be a precursor to more peace talks. NPR's Alice Fordham reports that many such ceasefires have been tried before and have fallen apart.

ALICE FORDHAM, BYLINE: The deal was announced by two countries heavily militarily involved in Syria - Russia, which backs the government of President Bashar al-Assad, and Turkey, which backs the rebels. Rebel leaders have been involved in talks and presumably the regime, too. What's clear is this deal comes at a time when the rebels are at perhaps their lowest ebb since the beginning of the nearly six-year civil war. Here's analyst Aron Lund.

ARON LUND: Of course there have been military developments, like the fall of the rebel area in eastern Aleppo recently, you know? That's important.

FORDHAM: After retaking the whole of Aleppo, Assad loyalists have been moving swiftly into other rebel areas, so Lund says the opposition and its backers could be more likely to stick to a truce right now. But that doesn't mean Russia or Assad's other major ally Iran won't violate the deal as they've done in the past.

LUND: If there's good faith on both sides here, then maybe. But good faith - Russia, Iran, Turkey - I don't know.

FORDHAM: Lund also says that these deals typically fall apart over which Syrian factions are and aren't included in the truce. Cracks are already showing there. A representative of a group which Russia says had signed up called Ahrar al-Sham tweeted the faction wasn't planning to participate at all.

Everyone agrees that operations against ISIS must continue, so it should be excluded from the agreement, but rebels would have liked to include a group with links to al-Qaida because it's present in areas where more moderate rebels are based. An opposition activist who goes by Ahmed Primo, afraid for his family if he uses his real name, suspect if operations continue against these extremists, moderates and civilians will be attacked, too.

AHMED PRIMO: (Speaking foreign language).

FORDHAM: He says, "as Syrians, we reject the exclusion of that al-Qaida-linked group not because we support them or sympathize with them, but," he says, "that gives the regime and its allies a pretext they've used before to continue massacres and displacements of people in any area controlled by rebels." Alice Fordham, NPR News, Beirut. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.