A ceasefire agreement brokered by the United States and Russia was implemented in Southwestern Syria on Sunday. It appears to have held throughout Monday, despite minor violations.
“The situation is relatively calm,” said Suhaib al-Ruhail, a spokesman for Alwiyat al-Furqan, a rebel faction active in al-Quneitra. Other rebel groups reported no significant fighting since the deal took effect.
A Syrian official said the government’s lack of comment on the implementation of the deal should be taken as a “sign of satisfaction.”
“We welcome any step that would cease the fire and pave the way for peaceful solutions,” the official told Reuters.
The de-escalation plan was announced after President Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin met on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Hamburg last Friday; Jordan also announced its participation in the plan soon after that meeting.
According to Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, in addition to halting the fighting, the deal aims to secure access to humanitarian aid for Syrians, establish contacts with opposition groups in the south and set up a “monitoring center” in Jordan’s capital city.
The Syrian government has in the past struck reconciliation deals with rebels, as it did in late May when it allowed hundreds of rebels to peacefully evacuate the city of Homs with their families. While every detail of the ceasefire has yet to emerge, that may be the government’s purpose in trying to set up contacts with rebel factions.
Speaking at a news conference at the G20 summit on Saturday, Putin described the deal as a sign the U.S. was becoming more “pragmatic” in its Syria policy.
Indeed, beginning with the Obama administration and continuing under Trump, American policy in Syria has vacillated from sitting on the sidelines, to regime change, to counter-terrorism, back to regime change and so on. One day the White House is backing rebels for Assad’s ouster, the next marching on Raqqa in order to recapture the city from the Islamic State, perhaps Assad’s most capable foe.
Inconsistencies aside, the de-escalation deal has been lauded by otherwise hawkish officials, with U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson praising it as the “first indication of the U.S. and Russia being able to work together in Syria.”
President Trump also said the deal was working in a tweet on Sunday:
Syrian ceasefire seems to be holding. Many lives can be saved. Came out of meeting. Good!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 9, 2017
While everything appears to be on track, the agreement has its perils.
Speaking on the first of five days of negotiations in Geneva that will attempt to draw down the Syrian war, U.N. Envoy Staffan de Mistura warned of the possibility of partition of the country, insisting the ceasefire must be a temporary measure. The envoy, however, also expressed optimism about the deal.
“When two superpowers […] agree fundamentally at that level in trying to make that ceasefire work, there is a strong chance that that will take place,” de Mistura said on Monday at a news conference.
Only time will tell if the ceasefire deal will hold into the future, but the negotiations in Geneva will continue in the meantime, the seventh round of peace talks between the Syrian government and the rebel opposition.
This latest round of talks is expected to focus on a new constitution, governance of Syria, elections and dealing with terrorism, among other issues.
The Syrian war, now in its sixth year, has killed between 300,000 and 400,000 people—civilians and combatants alike—since it began in 2011.
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