A main Syrian opposition group says it will respect a two-week truce that is due to start in the war-torn country Saturday morning, but it warned the government and Russia not to target it under a pretense of attacking internationally recognized terror groups like ISIS.
The proposed “cessation of hostilities,” announced jointly earlier this week by Russia and the United States, is scheduled to go into effect at midnight Friday in Damascus (5 p.m ET).
The parties in Syria’s five-year civil war had until noon Friday (5 a.m. ET) to declare themselves in or out.
The rebel High Negotiations Committee said Friday that 97 factions agreed to abide by the deal, but it warned the Syrian regime and one of its major foreign supporters, Russia, not to attack the factions under a pretense of targeting internationally recognized terror groups in the region, such as ISIS and the al Qaeda-linked al-Nusra Front.
“It should not be possible for the regime and its allies to exploit the … truce by continuing hostilities against moderate opposition factions under the excuse of fighting terrorism,” the panel said in a published statement Friday.
The two-week truce does not apply to “terrorist organizations designated by the U.N. Security Council,” including ISIS and al-Nusra. Military operations against them are expected to continue.
This is an important detail because there are more than 160 armed factions on the battlefield.
Meanwhile, United Nations Special Envoy to Syria Staffan De Mistura said Friday he planned to resume the intra-Syrian peace talks on Monday, assuming the cessation of hostilities holds. Included will be representatives of the Syrian government and opposition groups, he said.
The agreement calls for the Syrian regime and the opposition fighters to halt attacks and implement a U.N. “road map” for peace.
Under the terms, Russia, whose warplanes have targeted non-ISIS and non-al Qaeda Syrian opposition groups, will halt those airstrikes.
Both sides agree to allow humanitarian agencies access to the territories they hold, and to refrain from taking territory held by the other side.
The “road map” is U.N. Security Council Resolution 2254, which the council adopted unanimously in December.
As Friday’s deadline approached, regime and Russian airstrikes continued to pound different parts of the country.
On Friday, Russian President Vladimir Putin said the truce would be a difficult and “contradictive” process.
“But there’s no alternative to a peaceful settlement of the conflict,” Putin told a meeting of members of the Russian federal security service, the FSB. “All conditions have to be created for the soonest end of the bloodshed and for an inter-Syrian political dialogue in the future with participation of all constructive political forces.”
Civil war has raged over Syria for five years, since protests during the hopeful days of the Arab Spring were brutally repressed.
More than a quarter of a million people have died so far. Half the country’s population has been uprooted and has fled. People in some Syrian cities are starving. More than a million people entered Europe without the required papers last year — most of them, by far, Syrians. The European Union’s commitment to the free, borderless movement of people is in danger of collapse.