‘Syrian ceasefire problematic because of sponsors fueling violence’

Terrorist groups have instructions to escalate violence in Syria, and are so desperate that they could resort to using chemical weapons, political science professor Maged Botros told RT.

Syria's ceasefire agreed upon by the UN Security Council on Saturday appears already to be unraveling with reports of violations in the Damascus suburb of Eastern Ghouta.

The Western media was quick to point the finger at the Assad government. Damascus has been bombing Eastern Ghouta for a week, targeting Al-Nusra Front terrorists – something which is allowed under the UN resolution.

However, according to the Russian Defense Ministry, it was militants in Eastern Ghouta who violated the truce. Moscow says Damascus was shelled several times after the ceasefire came into force.

Political science professor Maged Botros says the violence is unlikely to end soon.

 

FILE PHOTO © Bassam Khabieh

In his view, while the ceasefire could break the “vicious circle of seven years of human atrocities,” no government would “allow its capital to be shelled all the time.” Besides that, he told RT, the Syrian government is alleging that the terrorists are using human shields in Ghouta.

He is also skeptical that the truce will work “simply because there are sponsors of violence, they are fueling violence: you have Qatar, you have Turkey, you have other states, they have interests in Syria.”

Following the vote, Russian Ambassador to the UN Vassily Nebenzia said that “it would be naive to think that internal Syrian questions can be solved by a resolution.” He added that Moscow had “supported the intentions” behind the document, but that no ceasefire was possible “without agreement from warring parties.”

According to Botros, “all the parties involved have interest to continue on with this violence.”

In a joint telephone call with the Kremlin on Sunday, Germany’s Angela Merkel and France’s Emmanuel Macron urged Russian President Vladimir Putin to ensure the ceasefire was fully implemented as soon as possible.

Botros argues though that it is not in Russia's hands as Moscow cannot put pressure on terrorist groups.

“Terrorist groups have instructions to escalate violence. Terrorist groups are in the state of desperation. They are so desperate that I can believe that they use chemical weapons as the last card on the table,” he told RT.     

‘It is imperative for the Syrian govt to take over Eastern Ghouta’

Dr. Jamal Wakeem, professor of history and international relations at Lebanese University in Beirut, told RT that “the US thinks that the ceasefire was meant not for the Syrian government to take control of Eastern Ghouta, which should remain a region to direct a threat to the capital, to Damascus.”

RT: Do you think this ceasefire will be possible to implement?

 

Eastern Ghouta in Damascus, Syria. February 22, 2018. © Bassam Khabieh

Jamal Wakeem: I believe that the ceasefire is conditional and this is noted in the UN resolution because the Syrian government and its Russian ally will continue its operation against Al-Nusra and ISIS (Islamic State/IS) which are on the terrorist lists. This is on the one hand. And on the other hand, I believe that we need to see what would be the reaction of the US because the US was the one to call for the UN resolution, for the ceasefire at the beginning. However, the Russian intervention amended this ceasefire to fit the needs for fighting terrorism in Syria. While the US thinks that the ceasefire was meant not for the Syrian government to take control of Eastern Ghouta, which should remain a region to direct a threat to the capital, to Damascus. And there were plans to link Eastern Ghouta to Al-Tanf region controlled by the US, to open a corridor that would allow US troops and US-backed terrorists to reach the outskirts of Damascus. I don’t trust the American intentions.      

RT: Turkey claims the resolution doesn’t affect its operation against Kurdish groups in Afrin. Is this a fair interpretation of the ceasefire agreement?

JW: The Turks are manipulating the resolution the way they want because so far after one month of military operation they didn’t achieve tangible results in the outskirts of Afrin. They couldn’t take hold of the city. The Kurdish parties mended fences with the Syrian government. And the city went back to government control in Syria. Erdogan wanted that a certain situation would be imposed in northern Syria that could fit his own interests and that he could present it as a gain to the Turkish public. And that is why the Turkish government declared that… it will continue its military operation.  

RT: With parts of Eastern Ghouta occupied by terrorist groups that are not party to the ceasefire, how can any safe humanitarian access be guaranteed?

JW: I believe that the humanitarian aid that the US called for is a mere pretext for it to open the corridor to the terrorists and to supply them with ammunition and with other logistics. I believe that this was the true intention of the US. That is why I believe that Russians has to intervene and to amend the resolution as to fit the strategy of fighting terrorism, mainly ISIS and Al-Nusra. We need to admit the fact that the US is using terrorist groups as tools for its war by proxy on the Syrian government and on Syria and also on the Iraqi government to control these two countries that are highly strategic for American geopolitical strategy in the region.  

Eastern Ghouta is the last stronghold for the terrorists to direct attacks on the Syrian capital. The insurgents or the terrorists are launching continuous attacks on civilians in the eastern part of the city. And many civilians have died so far. That is why for the Syrian government it is imperative to take over Eastern Ghouta.

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Syria: Negotiations for National Reconciliation Active

Damascus, Jan 16 (Prensa Latina) Syrian authorities pointed out that negotiations remain active to bring about reconciliation in the eastern Ghuta region, northeast and near Damascus, reported the media in this capital today.

Representatives of the Ceasefire Coordination Center at the Russian base in Hemymin in Latakia province and the governor of Damascus province, Alaá Ibrahimn, also take part in the talks, among others.

The meetings reached a consensus to broaden participation in the whole process that includes armed groups and noted that the general trend among civilians in Ghuta is conducive to reconciliation, noted the sources.

In this regard, they pointed out that armed extremists left nine villages in the Wadi Barada area, such as Huseiniyah, Bargaliya, Kafr al-Awamid, Suk Wadi Barada, Deir Kanun, Deir Makran, Kafr al-Zeit, Basima and Ein al- Fija.

The latter, part of Eastern Ghuta, is strategic because it is the source of drinking water for the Syrian capital and had been sabotaged by terrorists since last month.

According to reports, 1,268 armed insurgents left these settlements and returned to peaceful life, while others, in an unspecified number, obtained the possibility of leaving with their families to the governorship of Idlib.

To date, the reconciliation process in Syria covers more than 1,090 towns and villages.

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Russia scales down military presence in Syria, Admiral Kuznetsov aircraft carrier to leave first

The Russian Navy is returning the aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov and its group from the Mediterranean Sea back to Russia, the defense ministry reports. The move comes as Russia begins reducing its military presence in Syria.

The Kuznetsov group will return to its home base in Severomorsk, the chair of the Russian General Staff, Army Gen. Valery Gerasimov, announced on Friday.

Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered a partial pullout of military forces from Syria after negotiating a ceasefire deal with Iran and Turkey. He said it offered an opportunity to end the six-year armed conflict in the Middle Eastern nation.

The Kuznetsov was deployed to Syria in mid-October 2016, accompanied by three other warships and several support ships. In addition to using its warplanes to target militant forces, the group used its Mediterranean mission to train in joint action with other branches of the Russian military, Col. Gen. Andrey Kartapolov, commander of the Russian forces in Syria, said.

This included interaction with warplanes deployed to the Khmeimim Air Base near Latakia, interaction with shore-based Bastion cruise missile batteries, and establishing joint air defense over Syria involving both ground-based and ship-based anti-aircraft systems.

All combat tasks assigned to the aircraft carrier group have been accomplished,” Kartapolov said.

As the Russian military pulls out of Syria, Damascus reiterated its gratitude for Russia’s help in the conflict.

“The support that the Russian Air Force offered was crucial for our victories, which paved the way for a ceasefire and created the conditions for launching a political settlement of the Syrian crisis,” the chair of the general staff of the Syrian armed forces, Lt. General Ali Abdullah Ayyoub, said, as reported by RIA Novosti.

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Despite Ceasefire, Terrorists Launch Further Deadly Attack

Damascus, Jan 6 (Prensa Latina) The death toll in the city of Jableh in the Syrian province of Latakia has risen to 15, the authorities confirmed today.

Published reports indicate that the number of injured reached 45 after a car bomb exploded in a crowded area near a sports stadium.

The city of Jableh, which has more than 53,000 inhabitants, is located in the Syrian province of Latakkia, about 350 km northwest of the capital.

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Colombia's Peace Trembles as 2 FARC Rebels Killed in Combat

The killing of two FARC rebels in combat marks the first armed confrontation between government forces and the FARC in 131 days.

In a setback to major strides toward peace in Colombia, the bilateral cease-fire between the government and the FARC ruptured Wednesday as two rebel fighters were killed in combat in the northern department of Bolivar just days after the two sides of the more than 50-year-old conflict signed a new peace agreement.

OPINION: Colombia: The Just Cause for Peace and Unity

The Revolution Armed Forces of Colombia, the country’s largest guerrilla army, identified the two fallen fighters as Monica and Joaco of the group’s Front 37 unit.

Differing versions of events have surfaced from FARC commanders and Colombian authorities. The Ministry of Defense reports that the armed guerrilla rebels were well outside their designated areas and carrying out criminal activities. FARC leaders, ontheother hand, claim that the troops were marching on route to so-called “pre-concentration” areas where members of the rebel army are gathering ahead of the final process of demobilization and laying down of arms.

Source: Twitter / @Ricardo_TFARC

However, both sides of the more than half century-long civil war agreed that the incident underlines the fragility of the bilateral cease-fire and the urgency of implementing the newly-updated peace agreement, finalized after four years of talks in Havana, Cuba.

Chief government peace negotiator Humberto de la Calle told local media Wednesday that the “discrepancy of narratives” isn’t the central issue. “The important this is the lesson that (the ceasefire) is fragile; we cannot delay,” he said.

The FARC has called for an “official statement” from the U.N.-backed mission charged with monitoring and verifying the cease-fire to clarify the facts around the incident. FARC leader Luis Antonio Losada, also known by his alias Carlos Antonio Lozada, wrote on his Twitter account that the military’s version of events “lacks validity,” calling on the monitoring and verification body to “determine the circumstances” that led to the deaths of the two rebels.

Spanish lawyer Enrique Santiago, who has served as a legal advisor to the FARC during the peace negotiations in Havana, wrote on his Twitter account that the two rebels were killed “by a sniper,” adding that the “violation of the bilateral cease-fire is a war crime.”

The cease-fire officially launched on Aug. 29 after the FARC and government teams finalized a historic peace agreement at the negotiation table in Havana. The agreement to cease hostilities is credited with significantly reducing violence in the country, home to the longest-running civil war in the Western Hemisphere.

But the future of the cease-fire and breakthrough rapprochement was thrust into uncertainty when voters narrowly rejected the peace agreement by less than half a percentage point in the Oct. 2 plebiscite on the deal. Negotiators restarted talks and the cease-fire was extended until the end of the year while the country’s fledgling peace hung in political limbo.

FARC and government negotiators signed a new peace deal in Havana Saturday after taking into consideration hundreds of proposals for changes from diverse sectors of Colombian society. Both sides of the conflict have described the new deal as “definitive.”

OPINION: Colombia’s Failed Peace Throws Prisoners' Rights Into Question

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, currently in the United States to undergo medical exams for a possible prostate cancer relapse, had repeatedly stressed the urgency of salvaging the peace deal as soon as possible to guard against threats to the delicate cease-fire.

As part of the peace deal, FARC rebels demobilize in the coming months, moving out of their jungle camps into 27 transitional zones across the country. Once they have laid down their weapons, which will be melted down to create three peace monuments, they will reorganize as a political party.

The killing of the two FARC rebels marked the first documented break in some 80 days of the official bilateral cease-fire and, according to the Center for Resources for Analysis of the Conflict, the first armed confrontation in 131 days without combat between government forces and the FARC. The center’s director, Jorge Restrepo, argued on his Twitter account that the “only way to stop the conflict and get out of the situation of risk is to begin disarmament” now that the new peace deal has been signed.

FARC leader Rodrigo Granda, also known by his nom de guerre Ricardo Tellez, wrote on his Twitter account celebrating Monica and Joaco as “heroes of peace for Colombia.”

Colombia’s 52-year internal conflict has claimed some 260,000 lives and victimized at least 8 million more Colombians.

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Russian, Syrian air forces cease airstrikes in Aleppo at 0700 GMT Tuesday – Defense Minister Shoigu

The Russian and Syrian air forces halted strikes in Aleppo on Tuesday for a 48-hour humanitarian pause, Russia’s defense minister announced. The ceasefire comes ahead of schedule.

The Russian military said earlier that it would halt airstrikes on Thursday, but on Tuesday Sergey Shoigu announced that the ceasefire would be introduced two days early in order to pave the way for further humanitarian action in Aleppo.

The humanitarian pause to allow civilians to leave Aleppo and the delivery of aid to the city was to start on Thursday, according to the Russian plan.

“The goal of this work is to separate the terrorist from the ‘moderate opposition’ and get them out of eastern Aleppo,” the minister said.

 
The minister said it was expecting nations with sway over militant groups opposed to the Syrian government entrenched in eastern Aleppo to put pressure on them to cease hostilities in return.

Russian envoy to the UN Vitaly Churkin said earlier that Al-Nusra Front has two options in Aleppo: leave the city or be defeated.

Syrian government troops, which control the western part of the city and have encircled the eastern part, will provide two corridors through which militants can leave Aleppo with their weapons, Shoigu announced.

“Every party genuinely interested in swift stabilization in Aleppo should take real practical steps towards it rather than drag their feet for political gains,” Shoigu said.

Some of the armed groups in Aleppo, including Fastaqim and the powerful Islamists Ahrar al-Sham, rejected Russia’s proposed ceasefire and withdrawal offer, Reuters reported.

The UN said it would not attempt to carry out any humanitarian effort in Aleppo unless a security guarantee is given by all sides.

READ MORE: US & UK fire ‘war crimes’ accusations at Moscow as rebels shell Aleppo civilians

The Russian move is in line with a proposal Russia put forth to the UN Security Council earlier, which backed an initiative of UN special envoy to Syria Staffan de Mistura, which would see members of the terrorist group Nusra Front leave eastern Aleppo under a guarantee of safe passage, which would presumably bring hostilities in the city to a stop.

The proposal was defeated by other members of the UNSC, who pushed for a no-fly zone to be declared. Russia objected to this, saying the move would, de facto, protect the terrorists who control eastern Aleppo and allow them to continue their attacks on government-held part of the city.

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Germany calls for ‘complete ban’ on all military flights over Syria to save ceasefire

Germany’s foreign minister is calling for a temporary ban on all military aircraft flying over Syria to try and preserve the current ceasefire. Earlier US Secretary of State John Kerry demanded that only Russian and Syrian planes should be grounded.

Speaking at the UN General Assembly in New York, Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said that all military aircraft, including those belonging to the US, should be temporarily banned from flying over Syria for a week.

FM on : If ceasefire is to have any chance at all, there needs to be a ban of military flights for a limited period.

“The situation in Syria is now on a knife edge,” Steinmeier said according to a statement tweeted by the Foreign Ministry in Berlin on Thursday. 

“If the ceasefire is to stand any chance [of succeeding], the only path is a temporary, but complete ban of all military aircraft movement in Syria - for at least three days, better would be seven days,” Steinmeier said.

His comments come in the wake of the US Air Force admitting it killed 62 Syrian government troops during an airstrike aimed at Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) extremists near Deir ez-Zor on September 17. 

Meanwhile an aid convoy carrying aid traveling near Aleppo was destroyed, killing 21 people, with the US quick to blame Russia for the incident. Moscow has denied playing any part in the attack on the convoy. 

Steinmeier’s comments come after Kerry demanded that Russian and Syrian planes should be grounded immediately, adding that he believed this was the only way to salvage the ceasefire and find a way “out of the carnage.” 

“To restore credibility to the process we must move forward to try to immediately ground all aircraft flying in those key areas in order to de-escalate the situation and give a chance for humanitarian assistance to flow unimpeded,” Kerry said. He added that the alleged bombing of the aid convoy raised “profound doubt whether Russia and the Assad regime can or will live up to” ceasefire obligations. 

Moscow has criticized Kerry’s plan to keep Russian and Syrian planes out of the skies, while adding that the US had come to its conclusions about Russia being responsible for the attack on the aid convoy despite an investigation not having taken place. 

“I think that this is a reflection of the position which has been taken by Washington regarding the responsibility of Damascus and how they maintain that the Russian side was responsible for the attack on the humanitarian convoy,” said Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov, according to TASS. 

Kerry’s Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov called on Wednesday for a full and impartial investigation into the accident, adding that Moscow has provided all the data it has on the attack on a humanitarian convoy. 

The UN initially said that an airstrike was to blame for the convoy being partly destroyed, however, the organization has since backtracked regarding its position. 

“We are not in a position to determine whether these were in fact airstrikes. We are in a position to say that the convoy was attacked,” UN humanitarian spokesman Jens Laerke said. 

The UN said it would deliver aid to areas near Damascus on Thursday after deliveries had been halted for 48 hours following the attack on the aid convoy in order to review security procedures. 

“We are sending today an inter-agency convoy that will cross conflict lines into a besieged area of Rural Damascus,” Laerke told Reuters. “We will advise on the exact locations once the convoy has actually reached those locations.”

German Vice-Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel says that Russian President Vladimir Putin is determined that the delivery of humanitarian should not be halted and wants the US to protect aid convoys in Syria following a meeting with the Russian president in Moscow. 

It is Putin’s wish that “not only Russia is prepared to monitor these convoys with its own forces,” Gabriel said. “That's one of the big conflicts - that the Americans are not prepared to do that - at least not yet,” he added, as cited by Reuters.

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Ceasefire still on table after reassuring Syria Support Group meeting at UN

A US-Russia brokered agreement remains the major hope to achieve a lasting truce in Syria despite the lack of clarity over a recent fatal attack on an aid convoy. UN and US officials acknowledge the ceasefire is “not dead” after meetings on the UN sidelines.

READ MORE:US keeps operating in ’blame Russia for everything’ mode

Despite the ongoing blame game over the elimination of a humanitarian aid convoy in the southwest of Aleppo on Monday, the members of the International Syrian Support Group (ISSG), co-chaired by the US and Russia, agreed on Tuesday they will not give up on attempts to enforce the ceasefire in Syria in accordance with the Geneva deal. 

Following the ISSG meeting on the sidelines of the 71st UN General Assembly session, the US State Department issued a statement calling on all parties to adhere to the ceasefire “despite continued violence.

 
“There [is] still an imperative to pursue a nationwide cessation of hostilities based on the arrangement reached last week in Geneva between the United States and Russia,” State Department spokesman John Kirby said in a , referring to the general mood at the ISSG meeting. 

He emphasized the need to advance against Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) and Al-Nusra Front militants in Syria, conceding that some “difficulties” exist in separating Al-Nusra Front and the so-called moderate rebels.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov  the delineation between US-backed moderate opposition and terrorists a top priority, urging regional powers to put pressure on radical groups under their influence, without specifying the details.   

The ceasefire is not dead,” assured US Secretary of State John Kerry as he emerged from the meeting preceded by the talks with Lavrov. 

His words were echoed by the UN’s envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, who admitted that although “the ceasefire is in danger” it is premature to speculate on its failure to deliver the goods as “the only ones who can announce the ceasefire is dead are the two co-chairs [Lavrov and Kerry] and they have today not done so.” 


The ceasefire is not dead. That, I can tell you, was confirmed by everyone around the table,” he , adding that Moscow and Washington “want to give it another chance.”  

De Mistura announced the group would convene again on Friday to set a date for the next round of intra-Syrian talks.

The UK Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson has also underscored the key role of the Russia-US deal in ending the hostilities in Syria, affirming that “the Kerry-Lavrov process is the only show in town and we've got to get that show back on the road.”

On Tuesday, Johnson and Lavrov held their first face-to-face meeting since the reshuffle of the UK cabinet, in which Johnson on Russia to use its leverage on the Syrian government.  

Apart from Johnson, the Russian FM has met with Arab League Secretary-General Ahmed Aboul Gheit and President of Cyprus Nicos Anastasiades, as well as BRICS foreign ministers.

Despite the renewed push for a ceasefire at the meeting, French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault pointed out the ceasefire is unlikely to survive unless the other countries, besides US and Russia, are ready to contribute to its implementation.

The Russians and the Americans can't do it alone,” he said, describing the general sentiment at the four-hour long talks as rather “gloomy.”

Is there hope? I can't answer that yet, but we should do everything we can,” he said, as cited by AFP news agency.

The attack on the 31-vehicle convoy on Monday caused the destruction of 18 trucks with food and supplies and the death of 21 people, according to the Red Cross. Initial reports by the organization claimed the convoy had been targeted by an airstrike.

The incident has soured relations between Washington and Moscow ahead of the meeting after the White House accused Russia of allowing the alleged “airstrike” to occur, as it holds Russia “responsible for airstrikes in this space, given that their commitment under the cessation of hostilities was to certainly ground air operations where humanitarian assistance is flowing.”  

Moscow denied the allegations, insisting that the extent and the nature of destruction of the convoy’s vehicles suggested it had somehow caught fire on the ground and were not hit in an airstrike.

We have closely studied [drone videos] from where the incident took place and we did not find any signs of any ammunition having hit the convoy,” Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov said in a statement Tuesday.

There are no craters, while the vehicles have their chassis intact and they have not been severely damaged, which would have been the case from an airstrike. [All videos] demonstrate that the convoy caught fire, which happened almost at exactly the same time as militants started a large scale offensive on Aleppo,” the statement said.       

Only representatives of the 'White Helmets' organization close to Al-Nusra Front who, as always, found themselves at the right time in the right place by chance with their video cameras can answer who did this and why,” it continued.

The White Helmets is a volunteer civil defense organization that operates throughout opposition-controlled Syria and is often linked to militants from the group formerly known as Al-Nusra Front. One of the videos released by the Defense Ministry from the site appears to show militants driving a pickup with a mortar taking cover behind the aid convoy.

Russia also denies that Syrian warplanes could have hit the convoy, as they don’t carry out flights at night.

Our [Russian] defense forces already made statements that their aircraft was not involved [in the incident]. The Syrian aviation also could not work there, as the attack was carried out at night, the Syrian Air Force does not operate at night, it doesn’t have the capabilities for it,” Lavrov told Russia’s Channel 1.

On Tuesday, the UN retreated from previous claims that the convoy was hit by military planes.

We are not in a position to determine whether these were in fact airstrikes. We are in a position to say that the convoy was attacked,” UN humanitarian spokesman Jens Laerke said.

READ MORE:‘We regret strike on Syrian Army, but Assad still bombs indiscriminately’ – Kerry

Russia’s Foreign Ministry spoke of a deliberate attempt by Washington to turn the international community attention from the US-led coalition bombing of the Syrian army positions on September 17 by blaming the attack on the convoy on Russia without any evidence supporting the claims.

A number of countries, including US, UK, Denmark and Australia admitted that they took part in the US-led coalition jets operation that took lives of over 60 Syrian troops and injured dozens, paving way for an IS offensive in the area.

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