Syrian forces gain ground in Eastern Ghouta despite truce

A temporary ceasefire offered up by Russia appears to have been wholly ineffective as violence continues. Russia blames rebel groups for the outbreaks of violence during the daily humanitarian pause.

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Syrian gov’t steps up airstrikes after temporarary truce

Syrian government forces made gains against rebels in Eastern Ghouta on Wednesday despite a supposed truce in the area, a monitoring group reported.

Russia and the US have increasingly clashed over Moscow’s failure to implement the ceasefire as well as the use of chemical weapons. Russia blamed Washington and its allies for sparing terrorists on the ground.

Read more: Iran, Saudi Arabia and the new Middle East

Wednesday’s developments

  • The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that air strikes and artillery fire in Eastern Ghouta stopped just before the pause took hold, but that clashes continued around Hosh al-Zawahira and Shaifuniyeh.
  • Government forces advanced against Jaish al-Islam rebels in the eastern outskirts area of Hawsh al-Dawahira, the Observatory said.
  • The Syrian military claimed the humanitarian corridor had been opened, but according to state TV no civilians left the heavily bombarded area on either Tuesday or Wednesday.

Read more: What foreign powers want from the Syrian war

Watch video01:54

Strikes on Eastern Ghouta despite temporary ceasefire

Russia blames rebels, EU calls for action

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov told the United Nations Human Rights Council on Wednesday: “Russia together with the Syrian government have already announced the establishment of humanitarian corridors in Eastern Ghouta.”

“Now, it is the turn for the militants and their sponsors to act, militants entrenched there who still continue shelling Damascus, blocking aid deliveries and the evacuation of those wishing to leave.”

The European Union’s foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini, demanded that Russia, Iran and Turkey take responsibility for ending fighting in Syria and that they respect a genuine 30-day ceasefire.

In a letter to the three foreign ministries she urged them “to take all the necessary steps to ensure that the fighting stops, that the Syrian people are protected” and to allow free movement of aid groups and civilians.

France meanwhile called on Russia and Iran to exert “maximum pressure” on the Syrian government to implement the ceasefire.
Read more: North Korea is supplying chemical weapons to Syria: UN experts

Shaky ceasefire: Russia offered up the daily ceasefire as a compromise after the UN called for a 30-day truce across Syria. But with no civilians leaving during the daily ceasefire, humanitarian groups unable to funnel aid in during the short window, and frequent breakouts of violence, the truce appears to be wholly ineffective in helping the 400,000-odd civilians living in the area.

Rebel stronghold: Eastern Ghouta lies just outside Damascus and is home to about 400,000 residents. It also happens to be the last major opposition-controlled area near the capital, reportedly holding about 20,000 fighters. With signs of the Syria-wide conflict winding down, President Bashar Assad is attempting to consolidate territory across the country with the help of Russia to secure its interests during peace talks.

Seven-year war: More than 300,000 people have been killed since the conflict began in 2011 following a government crackdown on protesters calling for the release of political prisoners and for President Bashar Assad to step down. Since then, the conflict has evolved into a multifaceted war, drawing in global superpowers, neighboring countries and non-state actors.

aw/kms (AP, Reuters, AFP, dpa)

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Syria: White Helmets comb rubble for bodies

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What foreign powers want from the Syrian war

The Syrian opposition and forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad are not the only groups fighting in the conflict. Other countries have also intervened to pursue their own interests.

Iran

What it’s done: Tehran has been one of Assad’s strongest advocates, supporting loyalist forces with money, weapons and intelligence. Iran has also sent military advisors from its Revolutionary Guard to Syria and directed fighters from Hezbollah, a Lebanon-based militant group backed by Iran, which is also involved in the conflict.

Why it’s there: Tehran’s involvement in the war has allowed it to portray itself as a guardian of Shiism — the branch of Islam that the majority of Iranians belong to. Syrian Shiites have been targeted by some militant groups that identify with Sunni, another major branch of Islam. Iran also wants to keep Assad in power. The Syrian leader allows Iranian aid to flow to Hezbollah in Lebanon, opposes US influence in the Middle East, and favors Iran over Saudi Arabia for regional leadership.

Infographic showing armed factions in northern Syria

Russia

What it’s done: Moscow came to Assad’s aid when it started airstrikes in Syria in 2015. Russian officials said the airstrikes were targeting terrorist organizations like “Islamic State” (IS). But Russian bombers have also struck other anti-Assad groups.

Why it’s there: Moscow wants to secure its influence in the Middle East by keeping Assad in office and securing an important military airbase in the western province of Latakia and a naval base in the port city of Tartus. Russian President Vladimir Putin also appears to want to bolster Russian prestige and influence in the Middle East at the expense of the United States.

Saudi Arabia

What it’s done: Riyadh has given money and weapons to Syrian opposition forces, including some Islamist militant groups. It has also flown airstrikes against IS as part of a US-led international coalition.

Why it’s there: Saudi Arabia, a majority Sunni country, has opposed Iran’s attempts to expand its influence in the Persian Gulf since the end of the Iraq War in 2003. Riyadh wants to replace Assad with a pro-Saudi, anti-Iranian leader.

Read more: Opinion: The twisted logic of the war in Syria

Turkey

What it’s done: Turkish leaders had a good relationship with Assad in the mid-2000s, but they have supplied non-Kurdish Syrian opposition groups with weapons since the war broke out in 2011. Turkey has allowed opposition fighters, including jihadist militants, to direct ground fighting from Turkey and to enter the fray across the Turkish-Syrian border. Ankara has also launched airstrikesagainst IS and has been fighting Kurdish opposition forces in northern Syria since mid-2016.

Why it’s there: Turkey wants to prevent Syrian Kurds from gaining autonomy in northern Syria. Ankara fears that Kurdish gains could embolden the Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK), a Turkish group, to seek greater autonomy within Turkey. Ankara also wants to defeat IS, which has conducted terrorist attacks in Turkey, and install a more pro-Turkish government in the Syrian capital Damascus.

Read more: Turkey’s military offensive against Kurdish-held Afrin: What you need to know

Israel

What it’s done: Israel has primarily launched airstrikes against Hezbollah and Iranian targets in Syria since the conflict broke out.

Why it’s there: Israel wants to prevent Iran from gaining influence in Syria. Iranian leaders have repeatedly questioned Israel’s right to exist and funded anti-Israeli terrorist groups. Israel also wants to stop Hezbollah gaining any ground. The group has repeatedly fired rockets into Israel from neighboring Lebanon and Israel fears it could try and do the same in the strategically important Golan Heights in western Syria.

Read more: Former US ambassador: ‘Syrian situation extremely dangerous’

United States

What it’s done: The US has led an international coalition fighting IS with airstrikes since 2014. It has also provided air support and weapons to opposition groups in northern Syria, including Kurdish forces currently fighting Turkey, a US ally in NATO. Washington has also deployed several hundred US special forces to fight alongside opposition groups.

Why it’s there: Washington’s foremost stated goal has been the destruction of IS and other extremist groups in Syria. US policy toward Assad is less clear. Trump’s predecessor, Barack Obama, said “Assad must go.” Apart from its opposition to the Syrian government’s use of chemical weapons, the Trump administration’s position on Assad’s future is more ambiguous.

Read more: How German Tornado jets can help the anti-IS alliance in Syria

Germany

What it’s done: Germany has flown surveillance flights over Syrian territory to support airstrikes against IS and helped train Kurdish opposition fighters.Berlin has also called on Russia and Iran to persuade Assad to leave office in any peace deal.

Why it’s there: Berlin also wants to see the defeat of IS, which has carried out and inspired terror attacks in Germany. It has also opposed the Assad regime. German officials have said there can be no lasting peace in Syria if Assad remains in power.

France

What it’s done: France initially sent medical supplies and weapons to opposition forces. In 2015, it began airstrikes against IS that intensified after an IS terror attack in Paris in November 2015. Paris has also warned Assad against using chemical weapons.

Why it’s there: Paris also wants to defeat IS after a string of IS-related terrorist attacks in France. It also Macron urges Putin to help ease Syria crisis . French President Emmanuel Macron said in 2017 his country would no longer condition peace talks on a promise by Assad to leave office.
DW’s editors send out a selection of the day’s hard news and quality feature journalism. You can sign up to receive it directly here

COURTESY: DW

Palmyra: Syrian forces ‘enter’ IS-held town

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Media captionA look inside the ruins after they were recaptured from so-called Islamic State in March 2016

Syrian government forces have entered the ancient city of Palmyra, pushing back militants from so-called Islamic State (IS), activists say.

The troops and their allies, backed by Russian air strikes, have reportedly seized part of a neighbourhood in the west of the city.

The jihadists recaptured the Unesco-listed archaeological site in December from government forces.

Parts of the ancient city have been destroyed by the militants.

There were clashes and heavy shelling across the historic city as the offensive unfolded, the UK-based monitoring group Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

A media unit run by the allied Lebanese Hezbollah movement said earlier that the pro-government forces had reached the citadel, which sits on a hill overlooking the famous Roman-era ruins.

The Syrian government troops also seized a strategic area known as the “Palmyra triangle”, the official Sana news agency reported.

INTERACTIVESee the damage to the ancient ruins

10 January 2017

Satellite image of Palmyra

26 December 2016

Satellite image of Palmyra

IS held the ruins and the nearby city, known locally as Tadmur, for 10 months after seizing it for the first time in May 2015. It blew up temples, burial towers and the Arch of Triumph, believing shrines and statues to be idolatrous.

They also destroyed the Temple of Bel – the great sanctuary of the Palmyrene gods – which had been one of the most important religious buildings of the 1st Century AD in the East.


Ancient city of Palmyra

  • Unesco World Heritage site
  • Site contains monumental ruins of great city, once one of the most important cultural centres of the ancient world
  • Art and architecture, from the 1st and 2nd centuries, combine Greco-Roman techniques with local traditions and Persian influences
  • More than 1,000 columns, a Roman aqueduct and a formidable necropolis of more than 500 tombs made up the archaeological site
  • More than 150,000 tourists visited Palmyra every year before the Syrian conflict

The militants were then forced out by a Russian-backed government offensive in March 2016, but regained control while pro-government forces where focused on battling for the city of Aleppo late last year.

In January, satellite images revealed that the group destroyed the tetrapylon – a group of four pillared structures which were mainly modern replicas – and part of the Roman Theatre.

Palmyra sites graphic

Meanwhile, the US said positions held by the their allies of the Syrian Arab Coalition were bombed by Russian and Syrian aircraft near the IS-held town of al-Bab, in northern Syria.

“I believe they thought were held by ISIS, yet they were actually – on the ground – were some of our Syrian Arab coalition forces,” Lt Gen Stephen Townsend told reporters, using an acronym for IS.

Syria war: Russia and China veto sanctions

 

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A UN chemical weapons expert, wearing a gas mask, holds a bag containing samples from a site of an alleged chemical weapons attackImage copyrightREUTERS
Image captionUN investigations have said that the Syrian government carried out three chemical weapons attacks

Russia and China have vetoed a UN resolution to impose sanctions on Syria over the alleged use of chemical weapons.

It is the seventh time Russia has vetoed a UN Security Council resolution to protect the Syrian government.

China has also vetoed six Security Council resolutions on Syria since the civil war began in 2011.

Syria agreed to destroy its chemical weapons in 2013 under an agreement negotiated between Russia and the US.

What is Syria accused of?

The Syrian government of President Bashar al-Assad is accused of carrying out chemical attacks on its own civilians – a charge it denies.

However, investigations by the UN and international chemical weapons watchdog have found that Syrian government forces carried out three chemical weapons attacks in 2014 and 2015.

A boy who activists say was affected by a gas attack receives treatment at Bab al-Hawa hospitalImage copyrightREUTERS
Image captionChlorine irritates people’s eyes and skin and can burn the lungs

The reports said that Syrian air force helicopters had dropped chlorine gas on rebel-held areas, twice in March 2015 and once in April 2014.

The use of chlorine as a weapon is prohibited under the 1997 Chemical Weapons Convention.

Islamic State (IS) militants had also used sulphur-mustard gas in an attack, the watchdog found.


Read more:

Syria blamed for chemical weapons attack

Why is Russia engaged in Aleppo?

Syria: The story of the conflict


What did the UN resolution say?

Tuesday’s resolution had been drafted by the US, the UK and France.

It would have banned the sale of helicopters to Syria and would have led to sanctions against 11 Syrian commanders or officials, and 10 groups linked to the chemical attacks.

Nine Security Council members supported the resolution, while three – China, Russia and Bolivia – voted against it.

The final three members – Egypt, Kazakhstan and Ethiopia – abstained.

Russian Deputy Ambassador to the United Nations Vladimir Safronkov raises his arm to vote against a United Nations Security Council resolutionImage copyrightREUTERS
Image captionRussia vetoed the resolution, saying the vote was “based on the anti-regime doctrine of western states”

A Security Council resolution needs nine votes in support, and no vetoes from the five permanent members (the US, France, Russia, UK and China) in order to pass.

Why did Russia and China veto the resolution?

Russian President Vladimir Putin had said sanctions against Syria would be “totally inappropriate”, saying “it would only hurt or undermine confidence” in peace talks.

Moscow has long-standing links to Syria, with many Syrian military officers trained and equipped by Russia.

An undated handout photo from the Russian military appears to show Russian troops in an armoured vehicle in Aleppo, SyriaImage copyrightAP
Image captionRussia has had troops deployed in Syria

Moscow says its military and political support for the Syrian government has helped the fight against IS militants.

But Western critics accuse Moscow of targeting opposition groups backed by the West.

Meanwhile, China’s UN ambassador, Liu Jieyi, said Beijing opposed the use of chemical weapons but that it was too soon to impose sanctions as investigations were still ongoing.

Liu Jieyi at the United NationsImage copyrightAP
Image captionMr Liu said it was too early to reach a final conclusion on who carried out the chemical attacks

China has said in the past that it has a long-standing policy of non-intervention in other countries’ affairs.

Analysts say China may be worried that some of its Muslim populations in western Xinjiang have joined militant groups fighting in Syria.

China’s stake in the Syria stand-off

What do sanctions supporters say?

Nikki Haley at the UNImage copyrightREUTERS
Image captionThe US has accused Russia of “babysitting” the Syrian government

The US ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, said: “It is a sad day on the Security Council when members start making excuses for other member states killing their own people.

“They put their friends in the Assad regime ahead of our global security… the world is definitely a more dangerous place.”

UK Ambassador Matthew Rycroft said: “Not taking action against chemical weapons’ use undermines confidence in the international community’s ability to tackle flagrant violations of international law – and undermines the trust of Syrians affected by these horrific attacks.”

French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said Russia bore a “heavy responsibility toward the Syrian people and humanity as a whole”.

Syria war: Air strikes kill 25 jihadists in Idlib province, monitors say

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Members of the former Nusra Front gesture as they drive in a convoy touring villages, which they said they have seized control of from Syrian rebel factions, in the southern countryside of Idlib, on 2 December, 2014Image copyrightREUTERS
Image captionThe Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, formerly Nusra Front, announced its split from al-Qaeda last year

Air strikes in northern Syria have killed at least 25 members of a prominent jihadist group, including senior figures, monitors say.

The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says it is not clear who carried out the attack against the Jabhat Fateh al-Sham group, formerly known as Nusra Front.

Russia and Turkey say the group is not included in a ceasefire deal in Syria.

Meanwhile, rebel groups say they are halting preparations for peace talks.

A statement signed by a number of groups cited “many big breaches” by the Syrian government and its allies as a reason.

The ceasefire was brokered by Turkey and Russia last Thursday and has mostly held since then. Peace talks were planned for later this month in Astana, Kazakhstan.

A rebel fighter carries his weapon inside a damaged building on the forth day of the truce, on al-Rayhan village front near the rebel held besieged city of Douma, in the eastern DamascusImage copyrightREUTERS
Image captionRebels have accused the Syrian government and its allies of breaching the ceasefire

The Syrian Observatory said it could not determine if the strikes, in the countryside of Idlib province, were carried out by the US-led coalition or Russia.

Among the dead were leading members of Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, which was holding a meeting there, the Observatory added, without identifying them. Many others were wounded, it said.

Abu Anas al-Shami, a Jabhat Fateh al-Sham spokesman, said in a statement the attacks were carried out by the US-led coalition.

“The headquarters targeted by the international coalition a short time ago are a main headquarters for that area and contains a number branch offices, leading to the killing of the brothers,” he said in a statement quoted by Reuters news agency.

Map showing who controls the north west of Syria - 28 December 2016

Jabhat Fateh al-Sham changed its name last July and announced it was splitting from al-Qaeda.

Members of the group are currently operating as part of a rebel alliance that controls Idlib province, the main rebel stronghold after eastern Aleppo was retaken by Syrian government forces last month.

As well as the Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, the ceasefire deal excludes so-called Islamic State (IS) and the Syrian Kurdish Popular Protection Units (YPG) militia, according to the Syrian army, but the exclusion is disputed by the rebels.

Related Topics

Syria conflict: Clashes reported despite truce

 

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A man cycles past a damaged building in the rebel-held Damascus suburb of Douma (30 December 2016)Image copyrightREUTERS
Image captionOpposition activists said the rebel-held Damascus suburb of Douma was shelled on Friday

Fighting between government and rebel forces has been reported in parts of Syria despite a nationwide truce coming into force early on Friday.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a UK-based monitoring group, said there had been fierce clashes and air strikes in northern Hama province.

It added that rebel-held Wadi Barada near Damascus was also bombarded. But the military denied doing so.

There has been no comment from Turkey and Russia, which brokered the truce.

The rival jihadist groups, Islamic State (IS) and Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, and the Kurdish YPG militia are excluded from the initiative, which is aimed at restarting peace talks in Kazakhstan’s capital Astana next month.

Reports of clashes emerged within hours of the truce starting at midnight local time on Friday (22:00 GMT on Thursday).

Aleppo, 23 DecImage copyrightEPA
Image captionThe truce comes a week after the Syrian army’s successful operation to retake Aleppo

The Syrian Observatory said government warplanes had carried out 16 air strikes on rebel-held areas in the northern countryside of Hama province during the day on Friday.

The Local Co-ordination Committees (LCC), an opposition activist network, said the town of Halfaya had been targeted.

The Syrian Observatory and LCC also reported fighting in Wadi Barada, a valley in the mountains north-west of Damascus.

Map showing control of Damascus countryside (28 December 2016)

They said helicopters had attacked the village of Basima and positions held by rebels and allied jihadists from Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, which was known as al-Nusra Front until it formally broke ties with al-Qaeda in July.

But a Syrian military media unit denied that troops had shelled Wadi Barada and accused the opposition of aiming to show it was not abiding by the truce.


The new kingmaker – Lyse Doucet, BBC chief international correspondent

This deal was declared before it was done and dusted. Seven groups said to have signed up include Ahrar al-Sham, which Moscow and Damascus have always described as terrorists. Ahrar al-Sham says it has “reservations”. Do they have anything to do with backers like Saudi Arabia and Qatar?

But a new top table has been forged before a new US president enters the scene. Russia is confirmed as the foreign force which matters. Turkey displaced the US as kingmaker on the other side. It has bargaining chips and, most of all, wants to stop the sway of Syrian Kurdish forces, who are US allies.

Many opposition fighters will welcome a pause after their stinging defeat in Aleppo. But they and Turkey still want President Assad to step down. That conflicts with Iran, the other key player, as well as Mr Assad’s own circles. But that’s for the next round in this new great game which could be talks in Astana, in Russia’s orbit.


The UN expressed concern about the fighting in Wadi Barada on Thursday, saying combatants were deliberately targeting and damaging springs used to supply some four million people in the Damascus area with drinking water.

The LCC also reported on Friday that government shellfire had caused casualties in rebel-held Douma, in the Eastern Ghouta region outside Damascus.

A Syrian solider assists people in filling their jerry-cans in Damascus, Syria (29 December 2016)Image copyrightEPA
Image captionDamascus residents have had their water supply affected by the fighting in Wadi Barada

Abdulkafi Alhamdo, a teacher who was living in a rebel-held enclave in the northern city of Aleppo before being evacuated as part of a deal negotiated by Turkey and Russia earlier this month, said he was not optimistic.

“I can sleep a bit better and not wake up during the night in fear. But we have also experienced many ceasefires in the past and they don’t last,” he told the BBC.

“I believe [government forces] use that time to prepare their troops, and fix their planes and then they just target us again.”

Syrian opposition supporters take part in a a protest calling for the overthrow of Syria's government in the city of Idlib (30 December 2016)Image copyrightAFP
Image captionOpposition supporters took the opportunity to protest in the rebel-held city of Idlib

Meanwhile, Turkish military officials said Russian aircraft had carried out three air strikes against IS militants around the northern town of al-Bab.

The strikes appeared to be the first Russian support for a Turkish-backed rebel offensive aimed at recapturing the last IS stronghold in Aleppo province.

Russia has carried out an air campaign against President Bashar al-Assad’s opponents since September 2015, while Turkey supports the rebellion.


Who is included by the truce agreement?

On the one side, Syrian government forces, allied militias and the Russian military.

On the other, a loose alliance of moderate rebel factions that operate under the banner of the Free Syrian Army (FSA), plus several other groups.

Rebel fighters in al-Rai, in northern Aleppo provinceImage copyrightREUTERS
Image captionRebel fighters in al-Rai, in northern Aleppo province

The Russian defence ministry named seven “moderate opposition formations” included in the truce as Faylaq al-Sham, Ahrar al-Sham, Jaysh al-Islam, Thuwwar Ahl al-Sham, Jaysh al-Mujahidin, Jaysh Idlib and Jabhah al-Shamiya.

Ahrar al-Sham, which said it had “reservations” about the deal, and Jaysh al-Islam are Islamist groups that Russia has previously described as terrorist organisations.


Who is not included?

The jihadist groups Islamic State and Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, “and the groups affiliated to them”, are not part of the agreement, according to the Syrian army.

Jabhat Fateh al-Sham said on Friday it would continue to fight Bashar al-Assad, with a spokesman for the group saying the political solution under the truce would “reproduce the criminal regime”.

Members of the group are currently operating as part of a rebel alliance that controls Idlib province.

Kurdish YPG fightersImage copyrightAP
Image captionWhat will happen to Kurdish YPG fighters?

The FSA also said the deal did not include the Kurdish Popular Protection Units (YPG). The militia, which has captured large swathes of north-eastern Syria from IS with US support, is designated a terrorist organisation by Turkey.


Where does it cover and what are the terms?

It is nominally nationwide, although that really only covers the areas where the sides who have signed up have a presence – western Syria.

Map showing control of Syria and Iraq (28 December 2016)

Swathes of central and eastern Syria are under IS or Kurdish control.

Under the terms of the deal, talks on a political solution to end the civil war should begin within a month of the start of the truce and would be held in Kazakhstan.

Syria conflict: Ceasefire agreed, backed by Russia and Turkey

 

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Forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad stand atop a damaged tank near Umayyad mosque, in Aleppo, 13 DecemberImage copyrightREUTERS
Image captionAleppo saw some of the fiercest fighting in the war

The Syrian government and rebel groups have agreed a nationwide ceasefire from midnight (22:00 GMT) on Thursday.

The deal was announced by Russia’s President Vladimir Putin and confirmed by Turkey. The two nations, which back opposing sides, will act as guarantors.

The High Negotiations Committee (HNC), regarded by the UN as Syria’s main opposition body, confirmed the deal, which excludes jihadist groups.

If the truce holds, peace talks will be held in Kazakhstan within a month.

At least 300,000 people are believed to have been killed in fighting that followed the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad in March 2011.

A further four million have fled the country to seek refuge in neighbouring states or Europe.

How Moscow’s Syria campaign has paid off for Putin

Aleppo: Before and after the battle

Why is there a war in Syria?

Who is included in the deal?

On the one side, Syrian government forces, their factional allies and the Russian military.

On the other, the Free Syrian Army (FSA), a loose alliance of several moderate rebel factions, plus other groups under the High Negotiations Committee (HNC), the umbrella group representing Syria’s political and armed opposition factions.

FSA spokesman Osama Abu Zaid said there were 13 armed opposition factions in all who had signed up.

Osama Abu Zaid:Image copyrightREUTERS
Image captionOsama Abu Zaid: No future for Bashar al-Assad

The Russian defence ministry listed seven of the main rebel groups included in the truce as Faylaq al-Sham; Ahrar al-Sham; Jaysh al-Islam; Thuwwar Ahl al-Sham; Jaysh al-Mujahidin; Jaysh Idlib and al-Jabhah al-Shamiyah.

Ahrar al-Sham and Jaysh al-Islam (Army of Islam) are the key names, neither of them part of the FSA.

Who is not included?

Jihadists. So-called Islamic State (IS) “and the groups affiliated to them” are not part of the agreement, Syria’s army confirmed.

It also said Jabhat Fateh al-Sham (formerly the Nusra Front) was excluded. However, some rebel officials told Reuters it was part of the deal, giving a hint of the complications that lie ahead.

This is because JFS is intrinsically linked in Idlib province to groups that have signed up to the truce.

Kurdish YPG fightersImage copyrightREUTERS
Image captionHow will the Kurdish YPG react?

The FSA also said that the deal did not include the Kurdish Popular Protection Units (YPG).

The YPG, along with other Kurdish militias, controls a large area of northern Syria up the Turkish border. It is regarded by Turkey as a terrorist organisation and an extension of the banned Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).

What are the terms and where does it cover?

It is nominally nationwide, although that really only covers the areas where the sides who have signed up to the truce have a presence.

Map showing control of Syria and Iraq (19 December 2016)

Looking at the map, there are large swathes under both jihadist and Kurdish control.

One area that is included is the rebel-held area of Ghouta in eastern Damascus, where government forces have been advancing in recent months.

Announcing the deal in Moscow, Mr Putin said there were three key points:

  • Ceasefire between the two sides
  • Measures for overseeing the truce
  • An agreement to start peace talks

Under the terms of the deal, the peace talks would begin within a month of the ceasefire taking effect – and holding – and would be held in the capital of Kazakhstan, Astana.

The Kurdish YPG would not take part in the peace talks, the FSA said.

Damaged building in Douma, in eastern DamascusImage copyrightREUTERS
Image captionThe eastern suburbs of Damascus are included in the ceasefire deal

How did the ceasefire come about and can it hold?

Previous ceasefire initiatives this year brokered by the UN, or the US acting with Russia, quickly collapsed.

But earlier this month, Russia and Turkey negotiated a ceasefire in Syria’s second city, Aleppo, that led to tens of thousands of rebel fighters and civilians being evacuated from an enclave besieged by government forces.

AleppoImage copyrightEPA
Image captionThe new deal follows the evacuation of Aleppo

The fact that the rebels have been losing ground may help this truce.

The HNC admitted on Thursday that, because of the rebels’ limited resources against government forces and their allies, it was “not possible to continue” the fight.

What has the reaction to the deal been?

Mr Putin himself described the deal as “fragile”.

He said Russia would cut its military presence in Syria but made it clear Moscow would “continue fighting international terrorism and supporting the Syrian government”.

Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem said there was now a “real chance of finding a political solution” but that the rebels taking part must distance themselves from IS and former al-Qaeda fighters.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said a “window of opportunity” had been created that “should not be wasted”. He vowed to continue fighting IS and “terrorist groups”.

UN envoy for Syria, Staffan de MisturaImage copyrightEPA
Image captionUN envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, welcomed the deal

Difficulties lie ahead in peace talks. Turkey has already called for the Lebanese Hezbollah movement – linked to Syria’s ally Iran – to leave Syrian soil, which is sure to cause problems.

UN envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, welcomed the new deal, saying he hoped it would save lives and improve aid delivery.

“These developments should contribute to inclusive and productive intra-Syrian negotiations to be convened under UN auspices on 8 February,” he said.

The US state department said the deal was a “positive development” which it hoped would be “implemented and fully respected by all parties”.

One rebel commander told Reuters: “This time I have confidence in its seriousness. There is new international input.”

The FSA said it would abide by the truce but would retaliate against violations by government forces and their allies.

The FSA’s Osama Abu Zaid said it had so far had no direct talks with the Syrian government and still insisted that President Assad would have no place in the future of Syria.