US-Russian Ceasefire Deal Goes Into Effect In Southwest Syria

A U.S.-Russian brokered ceasefire in southwest Syria was holding several hours after it took effect according to Reuters, the latest international attempt to restore peace in the six-year Syrian war. The truce, which took effect across southwest Syria on Sunday at noon Damascus time (09:00 GMT), extends to Syrian government forces and rebel groups in the provinces of Deraa, Quneitra, and Sweida where western-backed rebels control swathes of territory and form a center of the insurgency south of the capital Damascus.

Last week, shortly after the first meeting between Trump and Putin, the United States, Russia and Jordan announced they had reached a ceasefire and "de-escalation agreement" with the aim of paving the way for a robust truce to deliver aid to war-torn areas and end hostilities; it will be enforced by the three countries’ militaries.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights told Reuters that "calm was prevailing" with no air strikes or clashes in the southwest since the truce began at noon on Sunday.

"The situation is relatively calm," said Suhaib al-Ruhail, a spokesman for the Alwiyat al-Furqan rebel group in the Quneitra area. Another rebel official, in Deraa city, said there had been no significant fighting. It was quiet on the main Manshiya front near the border with Jordan, which he said had been the site of some of the heaviest army bombing in recent weeks. A witness in Deraa said he had not seen warplanes in the sky or heard any fighting since noon.

Separately, a Syrian official indicated that Damascus approved of the ceasefire deal, describing the government's silence over it as a "sign of satisfaction".

"We welcome any step that would cease the fire and pave the way for peaceful solutions," the government official told Reuters.

Free Syrian Army fighter near an anti-air craft machine gun in Quneitra, Syria July 8, 2017.

So far so good, however this won't be the first time that a Syrian ceasefire agreement was implemented, only to crumble shortly after, especially with the tide of Syria's proxy war turning in Assad's favor over the past year: with the help of Russian air power and Iranian-backed militias, Assad's government has put rebels on the back foot over the last year. Furthermore, the wide array of mostly Sunni rebels which include jihadist factions and other groups supported by Turkey, the United States and Gulf monarchies, have suffered a potentially terminal drop in support following the Qatar diplomatic scandal, which has made it virtually impossible for either Saudi Arabia or Qatar to continue providing logistical and financial support to the Syrian rebel groups.

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President Vladimir Putin, who discussed the issue with Donald Trump at the G20 summit in Hamburg, called the ceasefire agreement “a breakthrough, to a certain extent,” noting that the deal was made possible by Washington’s “more pragmatic stance” on working with Russia. While little is known about how the truce will play out on the ground, it is understood that Russian, American, and Jordanian forces will be deployed to the area to stabilize the situation.

“In the first stage, Russian military police, as well as the Americans and the Jordanians, will ensure security around this de-escalation zone covered by the ceasefire,” Lavrov explained.

Trump addressed the ceasefire on Sunday, tweeting "We negotiated a ceasefire in parts of Syria which will save lives. Now it is time to move forward in working constructively with Russia!"

The deal marks the first peace-making effort in the Syrian war by the U.S. government under Trump, appearing to give him a diplomatic achievement at his first meeting with Putin. 

According to Reuters, Russia’s foreign minister Sergey Lavrov stressed that the ceasefire agreement clearly states that “Russia, Jordan, and the United States are committed to Syrian sovereignty and territorial integrity, as well as UN Security Council resolutions that pave the way to political reconciliation” and added that deal includes "securing humanitarian access and setting up contacts between the opposition in the region and a monitoring center that is being established in Jordan's capital."

Free Syrian Army fighters rest inside a room in Quneitra, Syria July 8, 2017.

The United Nations, in turn, has stated that it appreciates the international effort being made to bring lasting peace to this part of Syria. “This is a step in the right direction,” UN Deputy Special Envoy for Syria Ramzy Ezzeldin Ramzy told reporters in Damascus, as cited by Reuters. “All of this leads to supporting the political process,” he added.

Under the memorandum, all hostilities between government forces and the armed opposition should cease within the safe zones. Extremist groups, including Islamic State and Jabhat al-Nusra  will be separated from the ‘moderate’ opposition in security zones set up in the cities of Idlib, Latakia, and Homs, as well as parts of Aleppo.  Checkpoints and observation posts will be installed along the de-escalation lines within the safe zones, which should provide free movement for unarmed civilians and humanitarian access to areas under the control of the guarantor states.