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Putin says Russia, Turkey reach deal on Syria ceasefire – World

Russian President Vladimir Putin says a Syrian ceasefire agreement has been reached with Turkey.

Putin said Thursday that Russia and Turkey will guarantee the truce, which is set to begin at midnight local time (5 p.m. ET). He says it will be followed by peace talks between Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s government and the opposition, and that the Syrian parties would take part in talks to be held in Kazakhstan, without specifying a date.

“The agreements reached are, of course, fragile, need a special attention and involvement … But after all, this is a notable result of our joint work, efforts by the Defence and Foreign ministries, our partners in the regions,” Putin said.

The Kremlin statement came after Moscow, Iran and Turkey said they were ready to broker a peace deal in the nearly six-year-old Syrian war.

‘The agreements reached are, of course, fragile, need a special attention and involvement.’ 
– Vladimir Putin, Russian president

Syria’s military said it had agreed to a nationwide ceasefire.

In a statement carried by Syrian state news agency SANA on Thursday, the military command “declares a comprehensive nationwide cessation of hostilities as of midnight.”

The news agency said the ceasefire paves the way for reactivating negotiations to end the conflict.

It said the ceasefire comes after the “successes achieved by the Armed Forces,” an apparent reference to the capture of rebel-held neighbourhoods of Aleppo earlier this month.

Ahmad Ramadan of the Syrian National Coalition, a main Syrian opposition group, said it supports the ceasefire. Ramadan said in text messages sent to The Associated Press that members of the Free Syrian Army, a loose alliance of several moderate rebel factions, would abide by the truce but retaliate to violations by government and allied forces.

Several rebel officials told Reuters they had agreed to the ceasefire plan, but there was uncertainty over which groups were included in the deal.

Russia is a key ally of Assad, while Turkey is one of the main backers of the opposition. Several previous attempts to halt the civil war have failed.

Hotline established 

Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu said the truce will include 62,000 opposition fighters across Syria, and that the Russian military has established a hotline with its Turkish counterpart to monitor compliance.

Putin has ordered the Russian military to scale down its presence in Syria, where it has provided crucial support to Assad’s forces.

Putin didn’t say how many troops and weapons will be withdrawn. He said Russia will continue “fighting international terrorism in Syria” and supporting Assad’s military.

Putin, centre, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, left, and Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu, right, in Moscow on Thursday. Putin has ordered the Russian military to scale down its presence in Syria. (Mikhail Klimentyev/Sputnik/Associated Press)

Putin also said tthe Russian military will maintain its presence at both an air base in Syria’s coastal province of Latakia and the naval facility in the Syrian port of Tartus.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said U.S. president-elect Donald Trump’s administration will be welcome to join the Syrian peace process once he takes office.

Lavrov said Egypt will be invited to join the negotiations, and that Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Jordan could eventually join as well.

Turkey’s Foreign Ministry said it welcomes the ceasefire. 

“With this agreement, parties have agreed to cease all armed attacks, including aerial, and have promised not to expand the areas they control against each other,” says a statement from the Foreign Ministry.

Turkey and Russia would closely follow the situation on the ground to ensure the ceasefire holds. The statement calls on all sides wielding influence on the warring parties to provide the necessary support to halt hostilities.

Some groups excluded

Turkey said groups regarded as terror organizations by the UN Security Council will be excluded from the agreement.

The Foreign Ministry was apparently referring to the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and the al-Qaeda-linked Fatah al-Sham Front.

Hezbollah troops have been fighting alongside Syrian government forces against rebels opposed to Assad.

“All foreign fighters need to leave Syria. Hezbollah needs to return to Lebanon,” Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said.

A senior rebel official told Reuters this week the groups were discussing with Turkey the ceasefire proposal being negotiated with Russia.

They had rejected Moscow’s demand to exclude a rebel stronghold near the capital from any deal, said Munir al Sayal, head of the political wing of Ahrar al Sham whose group is involved in talks with Turkey.

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