Thu Dec 29, 2016 11:49AM
In this photo released by the Syrian official news agency, SANA, Syrian soldiers gather around a Syrian national flag in Palmyra, Syria, March 27, 2016. (Via AP)
In this photo released by the Syrian official news agency, SANA, Syrian soldiers gather around a Syrian national flag in Palmyra, Syria, March 27, 2016. (Via AP)

The Syrian military has announced a nationwide halt to fighting starting at midnight, in a move that could promote the diplomatic efforts aimed at ending years of Takfiri violence in the Arab state.

In a statement carried by Syrian state news agency SANA, the Syrian army said the ceasefire, which will come into effect at 0000 GMT on December 30, does not include the Takfiri Daesh and Fateh al-Sham terror groups as well as their affiliates.

“The Army and the Armed Forces General Command on Thursday declared a comprehensive cessation of hostilities across all the territories of the Syrian Arab Republic starting at 00:00 on 30/12/2016 in the wake of the victories and advances achieved by the Syrian armed forces on more than a front,” read the statement.

“The ceasefire comes with the aim of creating suitable circumstances for supporting the political track of the crisis in Syria,” it added.

‘Real chance to end bloodshed’

Later in the day, Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Muallem hailed the ceasefire deal as a “real opportunity” for a political settlement of the deadly crisis plaguing his country since early 2011.

“It is the duty of the factions (militant groups) who have signed it to distance themselves from, and declare that they are not linked to the Nusra Front or Daesh,” he said in an interview broadcast live on state TV.

Earlier, Russian President Vladimir Putin said Damascus and foreign-backed militant groups had reached a truce deal brokered by Moscow and Ankara.

Putin said the agreement would be followed by peace talks between the government of Syrian President Bashar Assad and the foreign-backed opposition.

The Russian president also announced Moscow is set to scale down its military presence in Syria following the cessation of hostilities.

“I agree with the proposal from the Defense Ministry for the reduction of our military presence in Syria,” Putin said in televised comments.

Moscow will continue supporting Assad and “fighting international terrorism in Syria,” he said, adding that the Russian military will maintain its presence at an air base in Syria’s Latakia Province and the naval facility in the port city of Tartus.

The Russian head of state also said the agreement is the result of joint efforts by Russia, Turkey and Iran.

“We know that only recently there was a trilateral meeting in Moscow of the foreign ministers of Russia, Turkey, and Iran, where all of the nations made obligations not only to control, but also to act as guarantors of the peace process in Syria,” Putin said.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov (3L), his Turkish counterpart Mevlut Cavusoglu (5R) and Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif (4R) attend a meeting in Moscow on December 20, 2016. (Photo by AFP)

Putin further said he would contact his Iranian and Turkish counterparts to discuss further steps in the Syrian peace process.

Kremlin: Assad ready to observe ceasefire

Later on Thursday, the Kremlin issues a statement noting that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has called his Russian President Vladimir Putin, saying that he was ready to observe ceasefire agreement in the Arab country, the Kremlin said on Thursday.

The statement added that Putin and Assad had agreed that the opening of Syria peace talks in Kazakhstan would be "an important step towards the ultimate resolution of the crisis."

Syrian opposition backs ceasefire

Meanwhile, the so-called National Coalition, Syria’s main opposition bloc based in Turkey, said it backed the nationwide ceasefire.

“The National Coalition expresses support for the agreement and urges all parties to abide by it,” said the coalition spokesman, Ahmed Ramadan.

In another statement, the so-called Free Syrian Army militant group said the nationwide truce does not include Daesh or the Kurdish militias with the US-backed People’s Protection Units, better known as YPG.

The countrywide ceasefire came one week after the Syrian army announced full control over Aleppo when the last remaining militants were evacuated along with civilians from the eastern sector of city under a truce deal mediated by Ankara and Moscow.

Turkey: Ankara, Moscow guarantors of Syria ceasefire 

Separately, Turkey’s Foreign Ministry welcomed the truce, saying Ankara and Moscow will act as guarantors of the ceasefire in Syria.

“With this agreement, parties have agreed to cease all armed attacks, including aerial, and have promised not to expand the areas they control against each other,” the ministry said in a statement.

At the end of the December 20 trilateral meeting in Moscow, foreign ministers of Iran, Russia and Turkey issued a joint statement on the Syrian issue, in which they emphasized the need for expanding the Aleppo truce.

The three sides expressed “readiness to facilitate and become the guarantors of the prospective agreement being negotiated between the Syrian government and the opposition.”

Erdogan: Syria truce “historic opportunity”

Commenting on the truce, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said the deal is a “historic opportunity” to end the Syria conflict, which should not go to waste.

“We have an opportunity to stop the bloodshed in Syria with a political solution. We must not squander this chance. This is a historical chance, this window of opportunity should not be wasted,” added the Turkish leader.

Earlier in the day, Erdogan held a phone conversation with his Russian counterpart on the ceasefire before it enters into force at midnight, his spokesman said in a statement.

According to the statement, the two sides further held talks on the upcoming peace talks on Syria, which will take place in Astana, Kazakhstan. 

Zarif, Lavrov discuss Syria truce

In another development on the diplomatic stage, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov held a phone conversation with his Iranian counterpart, Mohammad Javad Zarif, over the Syria truce deal.

During the talks, the two top diplomats welcomed the Syria-wide ceasefire and stressed the need for keeping up the fight against Daesh and terrorists with the former al-Qaeda-linked al-Nusra Front, now re-branded as Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, as well as their allies.

Zarif and Lavrov also agreed for Tehran and Moscow to hold constant consultations in preparation for the upcoming Astana peace talks. 

Syria truce ‘prelude to peace talks’

In a relevant development on Thursday, the UN special envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, issued a statement welcoming the announcement of the deal as a prelude to the upcoming UN-backed talks in Astana, expressing hope that the achievement would facilitate aid delivery to Syrian civilians and lead to fruitful discussions in the Kazakh capital.

“These developments should (also) contribute to inclusive and productive intra-Syrian negotiations to be convened under UN auspices on 8 February, 2017,” De Mistura’s spokeswoman said in a statement.