On December 29, 2016, a cease fire has been agreed to by the Syrian government and rebel groups, which are to be followed by peace talks. The deal has the support of Russia and Turkey, who each back one of the opposing sides. They are serving as the guarantors of the cease fire, which is set to begin at midnight on Thursday, December 29, 2016. Russia is a key ally of Assad, while Turkey has consistently backed the opposition.
The rebel High Negotiations Committee (HNC) confirmed the deal. The cease fire excludes jihadist groups. HNC is seen by the UN as the main opposition group. The Islamic State (IS) and Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, as well as any groups associated with them, according to the Syrian government. A spokesman for the FSA, an alliance under the HNC, said the deal did not include the Kurdish Popular Protection Units (YPG), which currently controls a large area of northern Syria along the Turkish border.
Earlier this month, Moscow and Ankara negotiated a ceasefire in Aleppo, allowing for the evacuation of thousands of rebel fighters and civilians from a besieged enclave of the city. Turkey moving closer to Russia to complete the ceasefire is seen as affecting Turkey’s policy on Syria.
The UN envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, welcomed the new deal. He hopes it would save lives, improve aid delivery and “pave the way for productive peace talks.” Previous ceasefire initiatives have quickly collapsed, despite the UN, the United States and Russia working to broker them.
Putin announced that three documents had been signed as part of the ceasefire, including an agreement between the Syrian government and the armed opposition; measures for overseeing the ceasefire; and an agreement to start peace talks.
He acknowledged the deal was fragile, but praised the agreements as the work of his defense and foreign ministries and Moscow’s partners in the region. However, while Russia will be reducing its military presence in Syria, Putin indicated that Russia would “continue fighting international terrorism and supporting the Syrian government.”
The peace talks, which are supposed to begin within a month of the ceasefire, are going to be held in the capital of Kazakhstan, Astana. No actual date has been confirmed. However, what groups are going to be left out of the talks seems to be a source of disagreement among members of the region. Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu indicated that foreign fighter groups, including Hezbollah, would also need to leave Syria. This is not likely to sit well with Iran, who has funded these groups and has been a major backer of the Assad regime.
The Turkish Foreign Ministry also indicated that it was key for all international states who have influence with groups in Syria to comply with and support the ceasefire.
While the FSA has signed the agreement, representatives indicated they would retaliate for any violations of the agreement by the Assad regime and its allies. They also insist that Assad would have no place in the future of Syria.