Syrian gov’t, opposition agree to a ceasefire in Idlib

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Syrian gov’t, opposition agree to a ceasefire in Idlib

A conditional ceasefire to end the bombing in Syria’s northwestern region of Idlib has been agreed upon after two days of negotiations in the Kazakh capital Nur-Sultan.

Syrian government airstrikes halted on Friday but ground fire killed at least one person in a government-held village near President Bashar al-Assad’s family hometown of Qardaha, state media and opposition activists said.

According to the final statement of the 13th round of Astana Talks (named after the previous name of the Kazakhstan capital), the parties agreed to implement the Sochi agreement.

The reports said the rebels would have to retreat 20 kilometres from demilitarised areas around the stronghold that were agreed to under the ceasefire deal reached last September in Sochi.

They were also required to withdraw their heavy weapons from the front lines.

That deal fell apart in April as President Assad’s forces launched an assault on Idlib, the last rebel stronghold in the country, killing hundreds and displacing more than 400,000 people. 

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“We withdrew the heavy weapons following the Sochi agreement, but the regime violated it and took advantage so they can launch their cunning and criminal attack,” said Ahmad Toma, leader of the Syrian opposition group, during a press conference in Nur-Sultan.

“If the regime commits to the ceasefire, we will commit to it from our end.”

Ayman al-Asemi, spokesperson for the opposition group delegation at the talks in Nur-Sultan, told Al Jazeera that he was optimistic the ceasefire would hold.

“Although we might see a minor violation of the agreement in the near future, it will hold in the long run,” said Asemi, reasoning that the regime and their Russian backers realised they could not seal a decisive military victory in Idlib without incurring massive losses in their ranks. 

“We were able to create a military balance with the regime forces that prevented them from achieving a victory.”

On Friday, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Idlib was witnessing “cautious calm” as warplanes stopped flying over the province.

Ahmad Sheikho of the opposition Syrian Civil Defence volunteers, also known as the White Helmets, said that since midnight there were “no warplanes in the air” but that artillery shelling continued. 

The talks also included discussions over the committee tasked with developing a new constitution for Syria. The opposition insists on having a new constitution, while the regime demands amendments to the current one.

“Turkey has an obligation to do it [respect the ceasefire]. If they cannot, we would help them,” Russian envoy at the talks Alexander Lavrentiev told Al Jazeera’s Andrew Simmons at the talks in Nur-Sultan.

Hay’et Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), one of the large Syrian armed rebel groups in Idlib, issued a statement on Friday saying it would abide by the ceasefire agreement if the regime committed to it.

The latest agreement does not provide a lasting solution to the plight of millions of Syrian refugees stranded in the province, nor has it come up with a strategic approach to end the conflict.

However, it “buys time” and maintains the “status quo” of the current situation, according to Mahjoob Zweiri, professor of contemporary politics of the Middle East at Qatar University in Doha.

“No Syrian party or its backers are in a position to impose a solution on the other side. Therefore, their best option at this point is to buy time and maintain calm,” said Zweiri.

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