The United States and Russia have come to an agreement on Syria, bringing some much needed peace to the increasingly violent conflict. The two nations will work together to coordinate air strikes against the Islamic State as part of a plan to reduce violence in the region.
A cessation of hostilities began on Monday September 12, as Syrian forces pulled out of specific jihadist-held territories. Besieged areas, such as the war-torn city of Aleppo, were granted humanitarian access.
Additionally, the U.S. and Russia will create a joint military centre to work together in the fight against the various jihadist groups pervading the area.
This deal is a stunning achievement amid current and former tensions between the two countries. Russia has supported the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad since the conflict’s onset, while the U.S. has supported the opposition.
The joint plan has been well received by many of the major players involved in the conflict. “We hope this will be the beginning of the end of the civilians’ ordeal,” said Bassma Kodmani, a spokeswoman for the Syrian opposition coalition. “We welcome the deal if it is going to be enforced.”
Turkey also spoke in favour of the plan, urging the promised aid must reach those who need it most “from the very first day.”
The development comes shortly after talks between U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.
The success of this plan relies on the Syrian regime cooperating with the opposition after years of fighting between the two. The opposition has announced its willingness to move forward, and Foreign Minister Lavrov has said the Syrian government is ready to fulfill their obligations under the plan.
The joint military centre will allow U.S. and Russian forces to “separate the terrorists from the moderate opposition,” said Lavrov.
“We have agreed on the areas where such co-ordinated strikes would be taking place, and in those areas, on neutral agreement shared by the Syrian government as well, only the Russian and US air force will be functional,” Lavrov said.
While the ceasefire is a step in the right direction, skeptics warn that expectations of an end to the bloody five-year conflict should be tempered.
As President Assad’s position strengthens, it becomes more and more difficult to imagine him voluntarily relinquishing his power, or his Russian allies pushing him to do so.
Yet, both Lavrov and Kerry have discussed the possibility of political transition. “The plan is more prescriptive and far-reaching than any proposal to date and, if implemented by all sides, could allow political negotiations to take place on Syria’s future,” said the U.S. Secretary of State.
The timely ceasefire comes just after an escalation in combat right outside Aleppo, where over 25,000 people live. The conflict has left the city with shortages of food, water, and fuel.
UN humanitarian chief Stephen O’Brien spoke to the BBC about the horrifying conditions in Aleppo, “Eastern Aleppo is at the apex of horror, where any one of us, if we were there, would find life barely possible, let alone tolerable.”