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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

Syria Agreement Already Facing Tests

by Luis Ramirez, Pamela Dockins February 12, 2016

Just hours after world leaders announced a deal to push for a cessation of hostilities in Syria within a week, the agreement is being put to the test.

In an interview published Friday, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad told the French news agency AFP that his forces plan to "retake the whole country," fueling doubts about the parties' commitment to end the nearly five-year-old conflict.

Assad said recapturing all of the territory could take "a long time." The Syrian president said he supports peace efforts, but he cautioned that the negotiations do "not mean that we stop fighting terrorism."

Holes in the deal

Observers who acknowledged disconnects in the deal agreed Thursday those discrepancies could allow Assad's forces, with Russia's help, to keep up their assault on rebel areas.

For one, the agreement does not provide for any truce in the Syrian government's fight against terrorists, including Islamic State militants and the al Nusra Front.

The Assad government considers all opposition fighters – both moderates and extremists – terrorists. Russia has continued to bomb what it says are terrorist targets, enabling Assad's forces to make considerable gains recently around Aleppo, Syria's largest city.

Syrian rebels continue to accuse Russia's warplanes of indiscriminately striking civilians and the moderate opposition.

Measured expectations

In announcing the deal to push for a pause in hostilities, U.S. officials have been cautious in their expectations.

Secretary of State John Kerry said the agreement is "on paper" only, emphasizing "the real test" is whether all parties honor their commitments.

The agreement is not a cease-fire deal, but a statement of intent by foreign governments to work toward stopping the fighting in a week's time – enough to allow humanitarian aid to reach civilians in rebel-held areas.

This was one key condition that representatives of the Syrian opposition say must be met before they re-join indirect peace talks that broke off last week in Geneva. U.S. and U.N. officials are working to resume the dialogue later this month.

On Friday, Kerry said the agreement "represents what the opposition wanted." He told reporters in Munich, "They wanted it called and defined as a cessation of hostilities. That is very much in line with their thinking and their hopes.'

The Syrian opposition has stopped short of welcoming the agreement, but sees it as an incremental step forward. Opposition representatives on Friday indicated they would be prepared to rejoin the peace talks if parts of it are implemented within the next week.

Salem Meslet, speaking for the main opposition group, the High Negotiations Committee, said "We must see action on the ground in Syria."

There are questions of whether the agreement by world leaders to seek a cessation of hostilities in Syria marks the beginning of a lasting deal for peace, or if it is simply a stopgap measure by world politicians to appear as though they are addressing a situation that is out of control.

Following through on humanitarian aid

International human rights advocates on Friday urged world leaders to follow through with commitments they say could alleviate the suffering of millions of Syrians.

"It is essential that strenuous diplomatic efforts continue beyond today's headlines to ensure that the human rights and humanitarian-related provisions agreed are adhered to by all parties," said Philip Luther, Director of Amnesty International's Middle East and North Africa Program, in a statement to VOA.

The longer-term prospects for peace now hinge on whether the Syrian government and Russian forces in the coming days allow for humanitarian convoys to reach rebel-held areas, and whether the opposition decides to re-join peace negotiations.

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