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Syrian Media Say Assad Accepts Cease-Fire Deal Reached by U.S., Russia

  • RFE/RL

Syrian state media report that President Bashar al-Assad's government says it has accepted a deal reached by the United States and Russia to renew a cease-fire, work together against terrorist groups, and lay the foundations for peace talks.

The reports of reaction from Damascus on September 10 came a day after the United States and Russia announced they had reached a breakthrough deal.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, standing by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov after a day of marathon talks in Geneva on September 9, said he thinks the plan will help to "stop the conflict" and could mark a "turning point" in the six-year civil war if it is faithfully carried out by all sides.

"Today, the United States and Russia are announcing a plan which we hope will reduce violence, ease suffering, and resume movement towards a negotiated peace and a political transition in Syria," Kerry said.

"The United States is going the extra mile here because we believe Russia and my colleague have the capability to press [Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's] regime to stop this conflict and come to the table and make peace," he said.

The cease-fire would go into effect at sundown local time on September 12, the first day of the Muslim holiday of Eid.

If the truce holds for a week, the United States and Russia will start working together to carry out military strikes against the Al-Nusra Front, an Al-Qaeda-linked militant group in Syria, and the Islamic State extremist group, Kerry said.

"We must go after these terrorists," he said. "Not indiscriminately, but in a strategic, precise, and judicious manner so they cannot continue to use the regime's indiscriminate bombing to rally people to their hateful crimes."

The agreement came after hours of internal deliberations within the Obama administration over whether to accept the terms of the deal.

The two sides ultimately agreed on steps which require Syria to stop flying combat missions anywhere that the opposition is present in an agreed-upon area, Kerry said.

"That should put an end to barrel bombs and...indiscriminate bombing and it has the potential to change the nature of the conflict," he said.

The plan calls for both warring sides to pull back from the strategic Castello Road in Aleppo to create a demilitarized zone, while opposition and government groups would both have to provide safe and unhindered access via Ramouseh in the south of the city.

Lavrov said that Russia has informed the Syrian government about the arrangements and the regime is ready to fulfill them.

Kerry said that opposition groups have indicated they are prepared to comply with the agreement if the Syrian government shows it is serious.

Syria’s mainstream opposition the High Negotiations Committee (HNC) welcomed the deal, saying it could eventually end the ordeal of civilians "if it is going to be enforced."

HNC spokeswoman Bassma Kodhami said in a statement on September 10 that the responsibility was on Russia as its influence "was the only way to get the regime to comply.”

Moderate Free Syrian Army (FSA) rebels cast doubt, saying they saw little chance of the deal succeeding because Damascus and Moscow would not abide by it.

Fares al-Bayoush, head of an FSA group called the Northern Division, said on September 10 that Russia and the Syrian government had not observed the last agreement and the chances of the new deal succeeding were the same as the previous one.

The Pentagon, which previously has expressed discomfort about the idea of working with Russian forces in Syria, said it would carefully monitor compliance with the cease-fire and other preliminary measures before carrying out its part.

"We will be watching closely the implementation of this understanding in the days ahead," Pentagon spokesman Peter Cook said. "Those commitments must be fully met before any potential military cooperation can occur."

Lavrov said there is "no 100 percent guarantee" that the truce will be respected. But the Russian foreign minister said if the truce does hold for a week, the United States and Russia will begin coordinated strikes against the Al-Nusra Front and IS.

"We will jointly agree on strikes against terrorists to be carried out by the Russian and American air forces. We have agreed on the zones in which these strikes will be carried out," he said. "Only the Russian and American air forces will work in these zones."

The UN's Syria envoy Staffan de Mistura, who suspended Syrian peace talks in April amid fresh fighting in Aleppo, said he hopes the U.S.-Russian agreement will get the negotiations back on track.

"The United Nations hopes that the political will that led to this understanding is sustained," he said.

With reporting by AP, AFP, and Reuters