Russia and Turkey have announced they will work to begin peace talks between the Syrian government and rebel fighters to stop the country’s nearly 6-year-old civil war.
USA TODAY NETWORK

A nationwide cease-fire in Syria between government forces and rebels that went into effect at midnight was holding Friday despite minor violations, according to opposition activists.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said a man was killed by sniper fire in the eastern suburbs of Damascus, becoming the first fatality since the truce went into effect. The group also reported an aerial attack on the rebel-held Barada Valley near Damascus.

The truce backed by Russia and Turkey could prompt a political settlement of a nearly 6-year-old civil war and a dramatic shift in U.S. policy under a Donald Trump presidency.

The agreement, announced by Syria’s military on Thursday, does not cover the Islamic State and the al-Qaeda affiliate operating in Syria.

If the cease-fire holds, the halt to hostilities between the regime of President Bashar Assad and rebels, who have lost ground in recent months, presents a major change as President-elect Trump prepares to assume office in three weeks.

Trump, who is critical of President Obama’s handling of the war and U.S. backing of rebel groups battling Assad, has suggested that Russia and Assad could be U.S. allies in the fight against the Islamic State in Syria.

By contrast, Obama wants Assad to step down because of atrocities his regime committed against the Syrian people, including the use of chemical weapons. Obama refused to coordinate military strategy with Russia in Syria, where a U.S.-led coalition targets the Islamic State, and Russian jets target all opponents of Moscow’s close ally Assad.

“Russia and Turkey are trying to put something in place before the new administration takes office,” said Robert Pearson, a former U.S. ambassador to Turkey  at the Middle East Institute. “It will be a kind of fait accompli with the Trump administration.”

Previous cease-fires have failed. Hundreds of groups are fighting inside Syria, and a long-term solution would require cooperation from countries that have vested interests in the war’s outcome, including Iran, which is aligned with Assad, and Saudi Arabia, which wants Assad deposed to reduce the influence of its enemy Iran.

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