Syria: Ceasefire to commence at midnight

Is the conflict that has killed hundreds of thousands of Syrians and displaced millions on its way to a resolution? 

The Syrian army has announced a nationwide ceasefire as of midnight.

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

State TV reported that the ceasefire paves the way for reactivating negotiations to end the conflict. The announcement comes after the “successes achieved by the armed forces,” an apparent reference to the capture of rebel-held neighborhoods of Aleppo earlier this month, the government-controlled station reported.

Russian President Vladimir Putin said that Russia and Turkey will guarantee the truce. Russia is a key ally of Syrian President Bashar Assad, while Turkey supports the opposition.

Putin has ordered the Russian military to scale down its presence in Syria, where it had been providing crucial support to Assad’s forces, but he did not say how many troops and weapons will be withdrawn. Russia will continue “fighting international terrorism in Syria” and supporting Assad’s military, he stated.

Putin also said that the 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.

The ceasefire is to be followed by renewed peace negotiations to end the nearly six-year conflict.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said that Egypt will be invited to join the process and that Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Jordan could eventually join as well.

Turkey has welcomed the ceasefire. In a statement, Turkey’s Foreign Ministry said groups regarded as terror organizations by the United Nations Security Council will be excluded from the ceasefire, in which Turkey and Russia will act as guarantors, in an apparent reference to the Islamic State (ISIS) group and the al-Qaida-linked Fatah al-Sham Front.

The statement says the government and the opposition have agreed to halt attacks, including aerial attacks, and not to expand territories under their control. It calls on all sides wielding influence on the warring parties to provide the necessary support to halt hostilities.

A main Syrian opposition group says it supports a nationwide ceasefire set to go into effect at midnight and that moderate rebel factions will abide by it, although, if attacked, they will defend themselves.

Ahmad Ramadan of the Syrian National Coalition said the truce reached Thursday includes a halt to airstrikes and shelling.

While hopes for the resolution of the half-decade-long conflict remain, peace talks have failed in the past and ceasefires have collapsed, leading to greater carnage and loss of life.

By: AP and World Israel News Staff