Syria war participant Russia backed up the ceasefire deal it brokered alongside Turkey by urging Security Council members to vote Saturday for “an inclusive and Syrian-led political process” based on past UN initiatives.
Analysts warned, however, that the reaction of Iran, a long-time military ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, would be crucial.
Russia’s UN ambassador, Vitaly Churkin, said a follow-on Russia-Turkey bid for talks between Syria’s factions in Kazakhstan’s capital, Astana, could – if successful – move on to Geneva.
He was referring to talks between Syria’s government and opposition planned by the UN special envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, from February 8.
Holding in some areas
The ceasefire, begun on Thursday night local time, did hold in some areas Friday, but the London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights spoke of at least 16 Syrian government airstrikes in central Syria’s Hama province.
Helicopters had also carried out raids on rebel positions in the Wadi Barada area, where rebels last week cut off crucial water supplies to Damascus, the Observatory said.
One person had been killed by regime sniper fire in the rebel bastion of Eastern Ghouta, near Damascus, it added.
Rebel groups ‘signed up’
Russia had previously said seven rebel groups representing 60,000 fighters had signed up to the deal, but the truce excluded jihadist organizations such as the so-called “Islamic State” (IS) and Fatah al-Sham, previously known as al-Nusra Front.
Opposition figures, however, said the truce applies to all rebel-held territory, even where Fatah al-Sham is present.
Despite being left out of the Russia-Turkey initiative, the outgoing administration of US President Barack Obama described the truce as “positive.”
Asked about the Russian draft resolution, one unnamed Western diplomat quoted by Reuters said the text would be studied closely.
Other diplomats, cited by the French news agency AFP, hinted that Russia might be hard-pressed to muster the nine votes needed for its resolution to pass.
If it holds, the ceasefire could mark a potential breakthrough in Syria’s multifaceted war, which began in 2011 with an uprising against President Assad.
It follows the recent Syrian government capture of eastern Aleppo from rebels, backed by Russian warplanes and Turkish incursions against IS and Kurdish fighters.
Six years of war have claimed at least 250,000 lives and left more than 13.5 million people in need of assistance, including many who have fled toward Europe.
Iran and Turkey on board?
Analyst Sam Heller of the New York and Washington-based Century Foundation think tank was quoted by AFP as saying that there was “real interest and urgency” from Moscow and Ankara, which in the past had backed opposing factions in the conflict.
Heller said, however, there were doubts about whether Tehran and Damascus were on board.
“All indications are that Iran and the (Syrian) regime want to continue toward a military conclusion,” he said.
ipj/rc(Reuters, AP, AFP)