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Syria ‘cessation of hostilities’ to begin next week

World powers decide to seek end of hostilities in Syria startong next week • Ceasefire will not apply to fight against IS and al-Nusra

12 February 2016, 8:35am
Talks between world powers in Munich, Germany, have agreed to seek a nationwide "cessation of hostilities" in Syria to begin in a week's time. The halt will not apply to the battle against jihadist groups Islamic State (IS) and al-Nusra Front, according to international media.

Over 250,000 people have been killed and millions dispalced in almost five years of fighting in Syria, but ministers from the International Syria Support Group (ISSG), which includes some 17 countries and three organizations participating in peace talks for the country, has  also agreed to accelerate and expand aid deliveries.

The Syrian army, backed by Russian air strikes, has recently made  significant advances in Aleppo province, which threatens to encircle tens of thousands of civilians in rebel-held parts of the major city.

The Syrian government and the main opposition groups have not said whether they will implement the ceasefire, with US Secretary of State John Kerry admitting the ceasefire plan is "ambitious" and that the real test would be whether the various parties honoured the commitments.

"What we have here are words on paper, what we need to see in the next few days are actions on the ground," he said.

The BBC reports that a task force chaired by the US and Russia will work to implement the truce through consultations with Syria's rival groups, with aid deliveries for besieged Syrian communities due to begin as early as Friday.

The ISSG also agreed that peace talks involving the Syrian government and rebels should resume as soon as possible, after initial talks earlier this month in Geneva, were suspended, in the wake of the Aleppo offensive.

The conflict in Syria started in 2011 when anti-government protests developed into a civil war, with the Assad government, Islamic State, an array of Syrian rebels and Kurdish fighters all holding territories across the country. The groups are largely also fighting each other, besides government forces, with the latter gaining support from Iran, Russia and Lebanon’s Hezbollah movement, and the UK, US, France, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar backing more moderate Sunni opposition groups.