"Potential Breakthrough" - Syrian Ceasefire, Which Snubbed The US, Holds On First Day

In the latest snub to the Obama administration, a nationwide Syrian cease-fire brokered by Russia and Turkey - one which explicitly avoided US participation - went into effect at midnight and was holding steady on Friday despite minor violations, marking what Bloomberg said is "a potential breakthrough in a conflict that has been shredding high-level peace initiatives for over five years."

And all it took was the absence of the US to bring hope of peace back to Syria.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported clashes early Friday between troops and rebels in the central province of Hama and near the capital, Damascus, but said there have been no reports of civilian casualties since the truce began. The group also reported an aerial attack on the rebel-held Barda Valley near Damascus. Cited by Bloomberg, opposition activist Mazen al-Shami, who is based in the Damascus suburb of Douma, said minor clashes nearby left one rebel wounded. Activist Ahmad al-Masalmeh, in the southern Daraa province, said government forces had opened fire on rebel-held areas.

Several past attempts at halting the fighting have failed. As with previous agreements, the current cease-fire excludes both the al-Qaida-affiliated Fatah al-Sham Front, which fights alongside other rebel factions, and the Islamic State group.

As reported yesterday when news of the unexpected ceasefire, which could lead to a peace treaty, broke Vladimir Putin said that the cease-fire will be guaranteed by both Moscow and Turkey, and the agreement has been welcomed by Iran. Moscow and Tehran provide crucial military support to Syrian President Bashar Assad, while Turkey has long served as a rear base and source of supplies for the rebels. Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif called the cease-fire a "major achievement" in a tweet Friday. "Let's build on it by tackling the roots of extremist terror," he added, as Bloomberg reports.

Russia said the deal was signed by seven of Syria's major rebel factions, though none of them immediately confirmed it, and one denied signing it.

The truce came on the heels of a Russian-Turkish agreement earlier this month to evacuate the last rebels from eastern Aleppo after they were confined to a tiny enclave by a government offensive. The retaking of all of Aleppo marked Assad's greatest victory since the start of the 2011 uprising against his family's four-decade rule.

"The defeat of the terrorists in Aleppo is an important step toward ending the war," Assad said in an interview with TG5, an Italian TV station, adding that the capture of the city does not mean that the war has ended because "terrorists" are still in Syria.

* * *

But what is most notable about the ceasefire is that the United States has been demonstratively left out of both agreements, reflecting the deterioration of relations between Moscow and Washington, and to an extent the decline in US-Turkish relations. Meanwhile, like Russia, Syria is hopeful that the arrival of president Trump means a new peace in the region. Assad told TG5 "we are more optimistic, with caution," about the incoming administration of President-elect Donald Trump, who has suggested greater cooperation with Russia against extremist groups.

"We can say part of the optimism could be related to better relation between the United States and Russia," Assad said, speaking in English.

"Mr. Trump, during his campaign - (said) that his priority is fighting terrorism, and we believe that this is the beginning of the solution, if he can implement what he announced," Assad said in the interview, which was apparently filmed before the cease-fire was announced.

Meanwhile, the US was desperate to pretend it still has clout in the regional conflict.  James Dobbins, a former senior U.S. diplomat, said the lack of American involvement in the talks between Russia, Iran and Turkey did not preclude the United States from being a major player in the region. In this case, it was frozen out because Obama leaves office in less than a month and because Turkey and Russia are at odds with the United States over its Syria policy and other issues, said Dobbins, a fellow at RAND, a research organization.

Trump has said he would cooperate more closely with Russia to fight terrorism but it was unclear what that policy would look like, given resistance from the Pentagon and the U.S. intelligence community to closer cooperation with Russia on Syria.