New Syria Cease-Fire Set To Begin Monday
RAY SUAREZ, HOST:
A new cease-fire in Syria is set to begin Monday. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov hammered out the deal last night. But the big question is whether it will actually work when so many other deals have failed. NPR's Alice Fordham joins us. Alice, the plan was announced overnight Friday. Can you tell us what's in it?
ALICE FORDHAM, BYLINE: As far as we understand from what Kerry and Lavrov said, it's kind of a sequential plan. So the idea is it starts off with a cease-fire. The Syrian air force is grounded in many areas where the opposition is. The opposition is expected to stop fighting.
Now, if that holds for a certain period of time and if aid access is allowed to areas that are besieged, mostly by the regime, then there will begin a period of military co-operation between the United States and Russia focused on targeting extremists - the group they consider to be part of al-Qaida and ISIS - without hitting the more moderate opposition, Russia, Syrian regime's ally, has been accused many times of striking.
SUAREZ: When you talk about the combatants in this particular war there are so many, and they don't share war aims. What are the reactions been from the various factions here?
FORDHAM: From the regime's side, it has thus far been muted. Although, before the deal, a regime spokesman indicated that they thought it would be good if the United States decided to co-operate with their ally, the Russians. From the armed opposition that we've been able to speak to, there has been some anger and some mistrust. They say they still have a lot of questions. Foremost is, what guarantees do they have? They see that there are no measures in place if this agreement is violated either by the Syrians or by the Russians. And then they feel that they haven't really been consulted very extensively.
And then the political opposition, the people who will be doing the negotiation in the event that peace talks restart, have also raised concerns that there's no consequences for violations. And they've shown a reluctance to really look beyond the first few steps of this sequential plan because they say, well, you know, first of all, we have to understand that there really will be a cease-fire. And their confidence in that hasn't been increased by the fact that there has been a spike in fighting since the announcement was made yesterday.
SUAREZ: Piggybacking on just that idea, what are the chances of people stopping shooting at the appointed time on Monday?
FORDHAM: Well, this is, in some ways, a continuation of an effort that was started in February and then subsequently put on hold because there were problems. But both the opposition and the regime demonstrated, at that time, that they are both able and, to a certain degree, willing to stop fighting. It was a very significant lull in hostilities. The opposition maintains that it lasted about 10 days. They say that it was broken largely by the regime. So I think it will probably start. But lots of analysts have pointed out that there are so many steps in this sequence of events for this plan that if one of them goes wrong, then it has the capacity for the whole plan to be derailed.
SUAREZ: The city of Aleppo was specifically mentioned in this plan. Why is it so significant?
FORDHAM: Well, the city of Aleppo is divided in two, basically, and has been for some time. Half of it is held by the opposition, and half of it is held by the regime, broadly speaking. Most recently, the regime has been able to make some gains, which has meant that it has been very difficult to get supplies - military supplies, but also just food and medical aid - to the hundreds of thousands of civilians who still live in the opposition-held area.
And heavy fighting has meant that it has been more difficult to get supplies into the regime-held side. A large part of the deal rests on both sides stopping preventing access for aid and medical supplies getting into either area. And there's been heavy fighting around there, so it's not clear that that's an easily achievable goal.
SUAREZ: This is the result of marathon negotiations between Lavrov and Kerry. If this agreement fails, what are we likely to see happen next in Syria?
FORDHAM: Well, no one really knows. And there really aren't a lot of good options, which is why, despite the fact that this deal is built on really shaky foundations in a way, so many people, particularly international diplomats who have been trying for years to find a solution to this problem, when you speak to them, you can just hear the hope in their voice that despite all odds this might work, this might make a difference.
SUAREZ: That's NPR's Alice Fordham. Alice, thanks a lot.
FORDHAM: You're welcome.
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