Secretary of State John Kerry said Sunday that a “provisional agreement in principle” has been reached with Russia for a temporary truce in the Syrian civil war, and it could start within days. Kerry spoke to Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and final details are expected to be ironed out during a phone call between President Obama and President Vladimir Putin.
Among the unsettled details are how a cease-fire would be enforced, and how breeches will be resolved. Russia has to talk with Iran and the Syrian government and the U.S. has to talk with the opposition and members of the International Syria Support Group.
The United States, Russia and other world powers agreed Feb. 12 on a deal calling for the ceasing of hostilities within a week, the delivery of urgently needed aid to besieged areas of Syria and a return to peace talks in Geneva. Aid shipments were allowed into several besieged areas last week but the deadline for the cease-fire passed with no letup in the fighting.
On the ground, there was no cessation of hostilities Sunday. Two blasts in the central Syrian city of Homs killed at least 32 people and wounded dozens in the latest wave of violence to hit the city in recent weeks, state TV said.
Kerry said it will be up to Russia to get Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and Iran to agree to the conditions and up to the United States to enlist the acquiescence of the major opposition groups and other members of a multinational group pushing peace talks. Afterward, he said, a temporary cease-fire could be implemented.
The opposition groups said this weekend they would agree to a temporary truce if Russia, Iran and various militias stop attacking them. They also have demanded a halt to attacks on the al-Nusra Front, which the United Nations and the United States both consider a terrorist group that should be excluded from any cease-fire.
Assad said in an interview published in the Spanish newspaper El Pais that he also was open to a cease-fire, so long as the “terrorist” opposition groups fighting against his rule do not use a lull in fighting to gain advantage. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon warned last week it would be “extremely difficult” to monitor any deal.
Any cease-fire would not apply to U.N.-designated terror groups, which include ISIS and the al-Nusra Front.Kerry said not every party will necessarily agree automatically, but said “There is a stark choice for everybody here.” To the north, the Syrian army captured 31 villages on Sunday that were controlled by IS, according to the pro-Syrian Lebanon-based Al-Mayadeen TV and Hezbollah’s Al-Manar station.