Canadian government cautiously optimistic about Syrian ceasefire

The Canadian government is cautiously welcoming news of the ceasefire that took effect at midnight local time in Syria, but Syrian refugees in Canada are not so hopeful.

Truce took effect at midnight local time in Syria, but Syrian refugees in Canada less certain deal will hold

A Syrian soldier keeps watch near Maarzaf, about 15 kilometers west of Hama. A ceasefire brokered by Russia and Turkey went into effect in war-ravaged Syria at midnight local time.

The Canadian government is cautiously welcoming news of the ceasefire that took effect at midnight local time in Syria, but Syrian refugees in Canada are not so hopeful.

"Canada stands ready to support the Syrian people in their efforts to secure a future that is peaceful," a spokesperson for Foreign Affairs Minister Stéphane Dion said in a statement, adding that a Syrian-led political transition is still the government's preferred option for a lasting resolution to the conflict.

The deal between Syrian opposition groups and the Syrian government was brokered by Russia and Turkey, and is the third nationwide ceasefire that has been agreed on in Syria in 2016 alone. The previous two, negotiated by Washington and Moscow, fell apart within weeks as warring sides accused each other of violations.

The latest agreement got off to a rocky start Friday, as clashes and incidents of gunfire were reported less than two hours after the truce began. However, warring sides appeared to have stopped firing in many areas.

The current deal does not involve the United States or United Nations, something that concerns Syrian refugee Basel Alzoubi, 39, who has been living in Ottawa since Dec. 31, 2015. 

Syrian refugee Basel Alzoubi says he has doubts the ceasefire will result in lasting peace, and is worried about his three sisters still in the country. (CBC)

"That make[s] me less hopeful, because [the] USA is one of the greatest countries, they have power everywhere, in every country," he said. 

​"I have doubts, but I wish that this time maybe it's a little different because Russia now gives [its] guarantee."

In addition to Russian president Vladimir Putin's promise Thursday that Russia and Turkey will guarantee the truce, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said U.S. president-elect Donald Trump's administration will be welcome to join the Syrian peace process once he takes office Jan 20.

Mohammad Ayyash, a Syrian refugee who has been in Edmonton for six months, said he has had sleepless nights while watching developments in Syria as Russia and Turkey hashed out a ceasefire plan. 

"The previous ceasefire failed, and I think this ceasefire agreement will fail also," he said.

Ayyash also expressed little faith in international political efforts to find a solution in Syria that will benefit the country's citizens.

"I think all the countries now — Russia, Iran, Turkey and America — l think they aren't solving the problem in Syria, they are managing the crisis just for their interests inside Syria."

'A good step for peace'

The ceasefire will be followed in a month's time by peace talks in Kazakhstan that will focus on finding a solution for Syria's crisis, but Oxfam's Melanie Gallant warns that refugees in Canada must be "realistic" about returning to their homeland in the near future.

"You have to think about the long-term impact on infrastructure, economy, health and education services in Syria," she said.

Oxfam Canada's Melanie Gallant says the most immediate impact of the ceasefire in Syria will be allowing people to access life-saving aid, food and water. (CBC)

"Even if it's safe to [return], families need to be able to support themselves. That's something that will need a considerable amount of time in order to happen. Even if the fighting ends tonight at midnight, humanitarian needs are real."

While Alzoubi calls the ceasefire a "good step for peace", he remains worried about his three sisters living in Syria, with whom he spoke on Thursday.

"It's hard to have family in Syria and I am still here in Canada," he said. "We have everything, we are lucky to come, but they are still in Syria."

For now, Alzoubi watches, and waits. 

"I wish to hear something good," he said. "That the ceasefire is real."

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With files from Reuters