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Syrian Government Announces Truce Backed by Russia and Turkey

The agreement announced on Thursday lists seven rebel groups. Explicitly not included, according to a Syrian Army statement, are the jihadists: the Islamic State, which controls territory in eastern Syria and across the border with Iraq; the Syrian affiliate of Al Qaeda, which is strongest in the country’s northwest; and “groups linked to them.”

How to define groups “linked” to the jihadists will be a thorny issue, along with Turkey’s insistence that the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah, which backs Mr. Assad, withdraw from Syria.

The announcement followed days of negotiations that involved Mr. Assad’s government, Russia, Iran and Turkey — but, pointedly, not the United States. President-elect Donald J. Trump has called President Obama’s Syria policies a failure and has backed the removal of remaining support for Syrian rebels, vowing to make fighting terrorism virtually the entirety of his administration’s Syria policy.

Russia, Mr. Assad’s backer, and Turkey, which supports some of the rebel groups, will guarantee the truce, set to begin at midnight on Thursday, Mr. Putin said. Minutes later, the Syrian military said it would halt operations nationwide starting at midnight.

The two sides actually signed three agreements, Mr. Putin said: the cease-fire itself; an agreement detailing how it would be carried out; and a third expressing readiness to begin peace talks for a settlement to the conflict.

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Mr. Putin said that Mr. Assad’s government and the opposition would take part in peace talks in Kazakhstan, but he did not give a date. A leaked text of the agreement said the talks would begin a month after the cease-fire went into effect.

The Russian defense minister, Sergei K. Shoigu, said that the truce would include 62,000 opposition fighters across Syria, and that the Russian military had set up a hotline with its Turkish counterpart to allow immediate communication about the truce and whether it was being met.

In a brief statement, the Syrian Army said the cease-fire came “after the victories and successes that our armed forces accomplished in more than one place,” an allusion to the recent retaking of Aleppo by government forces and allied militias.

Mr. Putin and Mr. Shoigu referred at one point to seven rebel groups’ having signed on, though Moscow did not supply details. One list that was circulated by rebel leaders included the rebel faction Ahrar al-Sham, or Free Men of Syria, and other groups that hold territory in northwestern Syria and east of the capital, Damascus.

Ahmad al-Saoud, a spokesman for a C.I.A.-backed rebel group that is included in the agreement, said in an phone interview that meetings about the cease-fire were continuing in Ankara, the Turkish capital.

It was not clear what criteria the Syrian military and its Russian allies would use to define groups “linked” to the jihadists. In the past, they have dismissed much of the armed opposition as “terrorists” who could not be distinguished from jihadist groups.

There were reports on Thursday of new aerial bombings in eastern Ghouta, a suburb of Damascus, but that was before the announcement in Moscow. Fifteen people were killed, including six children, according to a group that monitors the conflict. Whether the Russian government can pressure pro-Assad forces to curb their attacks against rebels will be key to determining how meaningful the agreement is.

At least some of the rebels who have signed on to the cease-fire have gotten weapons and financing from the American government, though that support might be drying up as United States policy changes with the transition in Washington.

Mr. Assad has called Mr. Trump “a natural ally” in the fight against terrorism, and the Russian foreign minister, Sergey V. Lavrov, said on Thursday that Mr. Trump’s administration would be welcome to join the peace process after he starts on Jan. 20.

“I would hope that, after the Donald Trump administration takes office, it will also be able to join these efforts,” Mr. Lavrov said at the meeting, shown on state-run television.

The Turkish foreign minister, Mevlut Cavusoglu, told the Turkish news channel A Haber on Thursday that Turkey would guarantee rebel compliance with the cease-fire agreement, while Russia would guarantee adherence by Mr. Assad’s government. Iran would also help monitor compliance by Mr. Assad’s government and by allied Shiite militias, including Hezbollah, he said.

Source: NYT > World

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