09/12/2016, 15.06
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Nuncio in Damascus sees positive action by US and Russia for ceasefire in Syrian conflict

Ceasefire comes into effect today. Syrian and Russian air strikes kill hundreds over the week-end. Iran and Hezbollah back truce. Free Syrian Army agrees with doubts. Jihadist movements oppose it. Mgr Zenari calls for a “stop to the violence” to “bring in humanitarian aid”.

Damascus (AsiaNews) – The fact that the international community, most notably the United States and Russia, faced "with resolution" the goal of reaching a ceasefire is "a good thing” because the conflict in Syria has reached an "unbearable" level and every diplomatic action aimed at stopping the weapons is welcomed, said Archbishop Mario Zenari, apostolic nuncio in Syria, who spoke to AsiaNews about the ceasefire agreement recently reached by the US and Russia.

The ceasefire is set to take effect today. Over the weekend, intense bombing affected different parts of the country. Syrian fighter jets, supported by Russian jets, hit several rebel-held areas. Sources close to the opposition said that at least a hundred have died in two days. Russian planes centred their operations in Idlib and Aleppo provinces.

"We are bound to what will happen in the coming days,” the Vatican diplomat said with respect to the agreement’s effectiveness and respect. "We really hope that the ceasefire will succeed.

“The main thing is to stop the violence and bring in humanitarian aid. The solution to the conflict goes hand in hand with the cessation of fighting on the ground. Every effort that goes in that direction is a positive sign."

Under the agreement signed by Washington and Moscow, Syrian forces will stop attacking specific areas currently controlled by the opposition. During a ten-day truce, the US and Russia will plan joint air strikes against Islamic State (SI) targets and other jihadist groups, including Jabhat Fateh al-Sham (formerly known as the al-Nusra Front).

Syrian state media report that Syrian President Bashar al Assad welcomed the agreement. He recently was shown celebrating the Muslim festival of sacrifice (Eid al-Adha) in Daraya, a city that symbolised the rebellion. Syria’s allies, Iran and Lebanon’s pro-Shia Hezbollah, also back the ceasefire.

After weeks of mediations between the US and Russia (in the wake of the failed ceasefire on 27 February repeatedly violated by both sides), this agreement began at dawn today to coincide with the celebrations of Islamic holiday.

However, it is unclear which opposition groups will accept the ceasefire agreement reached in Geneva. The Free Syrian Army group has written to the United States administration saying that it would "co-operate positively" with the ceasefire. Another group, Saudi- and Qatari-backed hard-line Islamist Ahrar al-Sham, has rejected the deal fearing that the Assad’s army and government would be the only beneficiaries.

Upholding the ceasefire is essential to proceed with the distribution of humanitarian aid in the areas under siege or in the cities devastated by months of a bloody conflict that in five years caused 290,000 deaths and an unprecedented humanitarian catastrophe with millions of refugees.

Attention remains high on Aleppo, which has become the epicentre of the war in Syria. The goal is to "demilitarise" Castello Road, north of the city, the main route used to supply the rebel-held eastern part of the city. The road fell to government forces in July.

“This is not the first time that the parties sign a truce,” Mgr Zenari said, “but the great determination now shown by the superpowers in trying to reach an agreement is an element that gives hope. It seems the parties have more good will even though we need everyone to be on board.”

Of course, the long meetings before the signing “show good will,” but they also highlight “the difficulties” of mediation. "The truce is the foundation,” the prelate said. “Now it is essential to deliver humanitarian aid to the civilian population. The sufferings of the people, of all Syrians, are becoming ever greater."

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