Russia agrees to ‘ceasefire’ during which it will continue bombing Syria

Syria Deeply reports: World powers agreed Friday to the “cessation of hostilities” in Syria in one week and to redouble efforts to deliver humanitarian aid to civilians across the country, but failed to secure a nationwide ceasefire or an end to Russian bombing.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry announced the deal in Munich shortly after a marathon meeting with top diplomats from more than a dozen countries, including Russia, to push forward a ceasefire deal and to resurrect peace talks that collapsed last week.

“First, we have agreed to accelerate and expand the delivery of humanitarian aid beginning immediately,” Kerry told reporters.

“Second, we have agreed to implement a nationwide cessation of hostilities to begin in a target of one week’s time. That’s ambitious, but everybody is determined to move as rapidly as possible to try to achieve this.”

Kerry was quick to acknowledge that the meeting produced commitments on paper only.

“What we need to see in the next few days are actions on the ground, in the field,” he said, adding that “without a political transition, it is not possible to achieve peace.”

Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov said that Moscow would not halt its air raids in Syria, saying the cessation of hostilities did not apply to the Islamic State group (ISIS) and the al-Nusra Front, the al-Qaida affiliate in Syria.

Diplomats from the U.S. and the E.U. have said very few of Russia’s air raids have targeted Islamic extremist groups; instead, they have primarily targeted western-backed rebel groups seeking to oust President Bashar al-Assad. [Continue reading…]

The Washington Post reports: Russian warplanes resumed their bombardment of rebel positions across Syria within hours of the deal, striking areas in the countryside around the northern city of Aleppo in support of a 10-day-old government offensive to lay siege to the city.

In Brussels, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told reporters that Moscow would continue its attacks against groups including the Islamic State.

The Russians have repeatedly said that they consider a number of Islamist groups fighting within the opposition to be “terrorist,” and have used this formulation to justify air attacks that have largely targeted the anti-Assad opposition.

Under the agreement, the United States and Russia will chair a task force to adjudicate questions about where and when bombing is permitted. But it remains unclear how those decisions will be made. [Continue reading…]

U.S. State Department: Statement of the International Syria Support Group

Meeting in Munich on February 11 & 12, 2016, as the International Syria Support Group (ISSG), the Arab League, China, Egypt, the EU, France, Germany, Iran, Iraq, Italy, Jordan, Lebanon, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, Oman, Qatar, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, United Arab Emirates, the United Kingdom, the United Nations, and the United States decided that humanitarian access will commence this week to besieged areas, and an ISSG task force will within one week elaborate modalities for a nationwide cessation of hostilities. [Continue reading…]

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2 thoughts on “Russia agrees to ‘ceasefire’ during which it will continue bombing Syria

  1. Óscar Palacios

    I’m perplexed about why lately Western media outlets seem to struggle not to consider an organization as Jabat-al-Nusra –openly affiliated with Al-Qaeda– as “terrorist”, when only a couple of years ago any group even loosely related to AQ was immediately labeled a threat. I’m not trying to discredit the whole of the Syrian opposition, nor am I swallowing the Russian narrative. I understand that the IS appears to be even more barbaric. But I am under the impression that when it is said that most Russian airstrikes are directed at non-ISIS targets, such statements seem to suggest that any non-ISIS opposition is somehow unworthy of Russian aggression. From my little knowledge –and I get a lot of my information from this website– I understand that JAN forms an important part of the opposition –that is, of those non-IS Russian targets. What is going on? Back in 2004-6 Al-Qaeda in Iraq and Abu Musab al-Zarqawi seemed to be the top priority, and news outlets were unanimous in their denunciation against them; and not only because of the barbaric sectarian war in Iraq, but because of their AQ affiliation. And although JAN’s AQ affiliation is well known, outlets are now simply mixing them with the more moderate (secular?) opposition, as if now there only were three major groups: the Assad regime and its backers, the IS and the “rebels”. No mention of AQ. Even before the appearance of the IS –before the fall of Mosul in Iraq– there was some degree of controversy about helping JAN because of AQ. Now all that talk seems to have disappeared into the background, and only the Russians are talking about that now, because it suits their narrative.

    For example, recently I read (I can’t remember where, sorry) that JAN was reinforcing its positions in Aleppo because of the heavy casualties due to the Russian airstrikes. So is AQ now defending Aleppo?

    I wanted to ask this because I’m disconcerted by what I perceive as a silent change in how the whole Syrian narrative is now being construed.

  2. Paul Woodward

    “although JAN’s AQ affiliation is well known, outlets are now simply mixing them with the more moderate (secular?) opposition, as if now there only were three major groups: the Assad regime and its backers, the IS and the ‘rebels’.”

    This simply isn’t true. It is Russia and Assad who make no distinction between Nusra and other opposition groups.

    Here are two recent reports that both clearly refer to Nusra as an al Qaeda affiliate and a designated terrorist organization.

    New York Times (Feb 13):

    Both Russia and the United States consider the Islamic State and the Nusra Front to be terrorists. But the insurgent leaders say that Russia has made clear since it began its bombing campaign last fall that, like the Syrian government, it applies the “terrorist” label to virtually all the opposition to President Assad.

    “Russia will continue bombing Nusra and Daesh,” said Yusef Farrouh, a fighter whose group receives ammunition and salaries from the United States and its allies, using the Arabic name for the Islamic State. “And we know what Russia means by ‘Nusra’ and ‘Daesh’ — us.

    “If we thought Russia was bombing Nusra clearly and specifically,” he added, chuckling and throwing up his hands, “we would have moved away from them.”

    Mr. Farrouh said that rebel groups had rejected the proposed deal at a meeting he attended earlier this week in Ankara, the Turkish capital. The rough outlines of the cease-fire, he said, were laid out by Riad Hijab, the former Syrian prime minister who heads the opposition’s High Negotiations Committee. In attendance were representatives of rebel groups that receive support under a covert program run by the C.I.A., along with European and Arab allies.

    With the proviso that the Nusra Front, Al Qaeda’s branch in Syria, can still be bombed, Russia puts the United States in a difficult position; the insurgent groups it supports cooperate in some places with the well-armed, well-financed Nusra in what they say is a tactical alliance of necessity against government forces. So Russia can argue that many of them are, in effect, Nusra affiliates.

    But insurgents say Russia has been also bombing groups that are nowhere near Nusra, including some that are fighting to hold back assaults by the Islamic State. Two weeks ago, Mr. Farrouh said, Russia unleashed fierce firepower on his hometown, Marea, which is held by his group, Safwa al-Islamiyya, and other Western-backed insurgents.

    The town is surrounded on three sides by Islamic State fighters whose advances the rebels have repeatedly fought off, including an attack in which ISIS used mustard gas, wounding civilians. “Why are you bombing us?” asked Mr. Farrouh, who sold curtains before the war. “Where should I go? Leave Syria, and leave all of Syria to Nusra to Russia can bomb them?”

    The Guardian (Feb 14):

    Russia wrung so many concessions out of others around the table that the deal seemed more an endorsement of its role in Syria than a challenge to it. Hostilities would not stop for about two weeks and, even when they did, bombing campaigns against “terrorists” could continue.

    That effectively allows Russia to continue bombing as before, since it has always claimed only to target extremists, while focusing more of its bombs on President Bashar al-Assad’s opposition than on Isis or al-Qaida’s Syrian operation, Jabhat al-Nusra.

    Opposition groups have already said they cannot accept the ceasefire if it does not halt Russian airstrikes. “No negotiation can take place while Russia is bombing our people,” said a senior member of one major Islamist opposition group.

    “It is a certainty that Russia will continue to attack us while claiming to target al-Nusra. They claimed that their campaign in Syria was to fight Isis but, so far, 85% to 90% of their attacks were against the moderate revolutionary groups, with a high percentage of civilian targets.”

    So when Russia’s foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, told the world’s diplomats this weekend that the ceasefire was more likely to fail than succeed, even fellow diplomats saw it as a self-fulfilling prophecy.

    The fact that Nusra and ISIS are both designated terrorist organizations doesn’t make them the same. The reason Nusra has formed tactical alliances with other opposition groups is that its focus has always been on fighting the Assad regime, whereas ISIS has focused on creating and expanding its caliphate — and often fought against Nusra.

    Analysts who get cited on this site frequently, such as Charles Lister and Kyle Orton, both warn that in the long run, Nusra poses a bigger threat to Syria than does ISIS. Whereas ISIS rules by force, Nusra has conducted a hearts-and-minds campaign promoting grassroots support, giving it a much stronger foothold — on top of which, unlike ISIS, Nusra is mostly made up from Syrian fighters.

    As far as the Syrian narrative goes, it is Assad and Russia who insist that they are fighting terrorism when there has long been a mountain of evidence that this is not the case. If you don’t trust the media, how about Physicians for Human Rights?

    “The Syrian government – and recently Russian forces – have been relentlessly attacking medical facilities in violation of international law and in defiance of any respect for humanity,” said Widney Brown, PHR’s director of programs. “Targeting the health system has compounded the crisis, caused many medical personnel to flee, and prevented countless civilians from getting treated. Even in war, there are rules that must be followed, but these war crimes have not slowed down.”

    Between March 2011 and November 2015, there have been 336 attacks on 240 medical facilities, 90 percent of them committed by Syria and their allied forces. 2015 has been the worst year, followed by 89 attacks in 2012, 86 in 2014, 47 in 2013, and two in 2011.

    From March 2011 through November 2015, 697 medical personnel have been killed, with Syria and their allied forces responsible for 95 percent of the deaths. [12/18/15]

    As Human Rights Watch has been documenting for years, the regime’s use of barrel bombs has been designed to terrorize civilian populations and drive them into exile.

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