Syrian government, main opposition accept truce

The Syrian government and the main umbrella for Syrian opposition and rebel groups announced Tuesday their conditional acceptance of a proposed U.S.-Russian ceasefire that the international community hopes will bring them back to the negotiating table in Geneva for talks to end the war.

Ceasefire due to take effect on Saturday

Soldiers from the Syrian army fire a rocket at Islamic State group positions in the province of Raqqa, Syria, in this photo taken Feb. 17, 2016. Syria says it will accept truce planned by the U.S. and Russia, but will continue fighting ISIS and other groups connected to it. (Alexander Kots/Komsomolskaya Pravda via Associated Press)

The Syrian government and the main umbrella for Syrian opposition and rebel groups announced Tuesday their conditional acceptance of a proposed U.S.-Russian ceasefire that the international community hopes will bring them back to the negotiating table in Geneva for talks to end the war.

The announcement came after the United States and Russia agreed on a new ceasefire for Syria that will take effect Saturday, even as major questions over enforcement were left unresolved.

The Syrian Foreign Ministry said in a statement Tuesday that it accepts the proposed truce, adding that operations will continue against the Islamic State group, al-Qaeda's branch in Syria and "other terrorist groups linked to them."

"The Syrian government stresses the right of its armed forces to retaliate against any violation carried out by these groups," the ministry's statement said.

The Syrian announcement came after the main umbrella for Syrian opposition and rebel groups, the High Negotiations Committee, said late Monday that it "agrees to a temporary truce" as long as the main opposition's demands are met.

The HNC said the "acceptance of the truce is conditional" to the Syrian government ending its siege of 18 rebel-held areas, releasing detainees and the cessation of aerial and artillery bombardment.

UN envoy Staffan de Mistura halted the latest Syria talks in Geneva on Feb. 3, because of major differences between the two sides, exacerbated by increased aerial bombings and a large-scale government military offensive under the cover of Russian airstrikes.

It was not immediately clear if de Mistura will set a new date for the resumption of the talks that were scheduled to resume on Thursday. Last week, de Mistura was quoted by Swedish newspaper Svenska Dagbladet as saying the Syria talks won't resume in Geneva on Feb. 25 as he had previously hoped, adding that he cannot "realistically" get the parties in the Syrian conflict back to the table by then, "but we intend to do so soon."

Aid convoy

Syria's state news agency SANA reported late Monday that a new humanitarian aid convoy made up of 44 trucks entered the besieged Damascus suburb of Moadamiyeh. The delivery was conducted under the supervision of the Syrian Arab Red Crescent and the United Nations, SANA said.

On Tuesday, state TV reported that aid entered another rebel-held suburb, Kfar Batna.

The latest distribution of aid came as Peter Maurer, the president of the International Committee of the Red Cross, began a five-day visit to Syria — his fourth since taking office in 2012.

"This is a critical situation at the present moment with millions of people in need and the objective of course of this trip is to scale up our operations and to bring as good as we can more help to Syrian people," Maurer said in statement.

The truce will not cover IS, the al-Qaeda-linked Nusra Front and any other militias designated as terrorist organizations by the U.N. Security Council. But where in Syria the fighting must stop and where counterterrorism operations can continue must still be addressed. And the five-page plan released by the U.S. State Department leaves open how breaches of the cease-fire will be identified or punished.

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