Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Talks on Syria Nationwide Truce, But Still Obstacles
Wednesday 28 Dec 2016

Turkey and Russia are discussing a possible nationwide ceasefire in Syria, but obstacles remain to any deal, a rebel official said on Wednesday.

Earlier, Turkey's Anadolu agency reported that Ankara and Moscow had reached a ceasefire deal that would go into effect at midnight, but neither capital nor the parties to the conflict confirmed the report.

Labib Nahhas, foreign relations head for the powerful Ahrar al-Sham rebel group, confirmed to AFP that the faction was "aware of ongoing discussions between Russia and Turkey about a nationwide ceasefire".

But he reiterated that rebel factions had not been presented with any official proposal and said there were still obstacles to a deal.

"Russia wants to exclude Eastern Ghouta from the ceasefire, which is not acceptable," he said, referring to a rebel-held area outside Damascus.

Syria's army has been advancing in Eastern Ghouta in recent months, and securing the area around the capital would be another major government gain after recapturing Aleppo.

Russia is a key ally of Syria's President Bashar al-Assad, and began a military intervention to bolster his government last year.

Turkey, meanwhile, has backed the uprising against the government in Damascus that began in March 2011.

Despite their opposing stances, and the souring of relations after Turkey shot down a Russian warplane last year, the two countries have started to cooperate more closely on Syria.

Turkey remained conspicuously quiet as Assad's forces, backed by Russia, retook control last week of Aleppo in the biggest defeat so far for the rebels in the civil war.

And the two countries brokered a deal that saw the last rebels and civilians in opposition-held parts of Aleppo leave the city.

State-run Anadolu had reported the deal would expand the ceasefire agreed for Aleppo during the rebel evacuation to the whole country.

If successful, the plan would form the basis of upcoming political negotiations between Damascus and the opposition, overseen by Russia and Turkey in the Kazakh capital Astana, it added.

But the deal was not confirmed by officials from either Turkey or Russia, and Syrian state media made no mention of it.

An official from the political opposition High Negotiations Committee also said he had no information about the agreement.

Syria's conflict has killed more than 310,000 people since it began, and displaced over half the population, including millions who have been forced to flee abroad as refugees.

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