Syrian Cease-Fire Is Expected To Begin At Sundown
RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
In Syria, a truce is due to begin today at sundown. The cease-fire between the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and the rebels who fight against him is the first step to a new plan announced by the U.S. and Russia. NPR's Alice Fordham joins us now from Beirut to talk more about that. Good morning.
ALICE FORDHAM, BYLINE: Good morning.
MONTAGNE: OK, the deal between the U.S. and Russia was announced very late Friday, and the various factions have had the weekend to consider it. What does it look like as of Monday morning - this morning?
FORDHAM: Well, the idea of the plan is that it's actually more of a sequence of events. So first there's meant to be a week of cease-fire and sustained access for aid to people in besieged areas. Mainly, we're talking about civilians in rebel-held areas where aid has been blocked by the Syrian government.
Then, if that works, the United States and Russia will start to coordinate their air forces. And they're going to work together to target extremists, including ISIS and a group that they consider an al-Qaida affiliate. And then at some later point, peace talks are ideally meant to restart.
MONTAGNE: So some of this coordination - does it suggest that, on the ground, the different sides are likely to abide by the truce?
FORDHAM: It's a distinct possibility that they will. The idea is that because Russia supports the regime and the United States supports the rebels, each of them can get their allies to stop fighting. With comments published in state media, the regime has indicated that it will abide by the cease-fire. But a lot of the rebels are extremely skeptical, and they don't trust the Russians at all.
Since the Russians entered Syria's war about a year ago, people have described a very significant increase in air strikes which seem to deliberately target civilian infrastructure. We're talking about hospitals and schools. And they see Russia as being behind this, although the Russians deny it.
And there are many concerns that the opposition have raised with the Americans, such as the lack of any sort of enforcement mechanism, which is to say, punishment for a violation of the cease-fire. So a lot of them have indicated in principle that they do want to abide by a cease-fire, but there's a lot of questions hanging over it still.
MONTAGNE: And Russia and the U.S. say in their military cooperation that they'll target only extremists and not the moderate opposition. But they are pretty physically close together in places and also even comingled. So how easy is it to tell the difference?
FORDHAM: Well, exactly, and it starts from the question, really, of how you define an extremist, which is not something that the United States and Russia have easily agreed on in the past or now. And now there's another complicating factor. So the group that the United States still considers to be part of al-Qaida - though it recently cut its ties with the main group - it's now much more mixed up with the rest of the opposition than it was earlier this year.
So it's hard to hit them without hitting the rest of the opposition. And plus, the opposition views them as closer allies now than they did then. So even if the first stage of proceedings goes according to plan - if a week of cease-fire is maintained in Syria and the U.S. and Russia do decide to go ahead with their plan to attack extremism together, that's not a simple or a clear or an easy goal.
MONTAGNE: NPR's Alice Fordham, speaking to us from Beirut, thanks very much.
FORDHAM: Thanks for having me, Renee.
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