Trump, Putin agree to ceasefire deal for south-western Syria


HAMBURG — U.S. President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin on Friday agreed to a ceasefire deal covering south-western Syria, the latest in a string of attempts to alleviate bloodshed in the war-torn country.

The truce will go into effect at midday Damascus time (0900 GMT) on Sunday, the top diplomats of Russia and the US said as they announced the agreement reached by their bosses on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Germany.

“It is our first success,” said US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in reference to cooperation between the White House and the Kremlin.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the ceasefire was expected to include the cities of Daraa, Sweida and Queitra.

It said in a statement issued late Friday that the agreement would see the withdrawal of Syrian regime forces from the frontline to their barracks. The area will then be prepared to receive Syrian refugees from Jordan. It also is meant to allow humanitarian aid to arrive in the area.

The war in Syria, now in its seventh year, has drawn in global powers including the United States and Russia. More than 400,000 Syrians have died, the UN estimates.

The US and Russia back opposing sides in the conflict, with Moscow supporting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and Washington backing rebels groups seeking to oust him.

“The United States has made a commitment that all the groups present there will observe the ceasefire,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov was quoted by Russia’s state-run TASS news agency as saying after the Trump-Putin meeting, at which he and Tillerson were present.

Jordan, which borders south-western Syria, will also participate in the effort.

Lavrov said Russian military police in the area would monitor the ceasefire, but a senior US State Department official said the specific details of the monitoring arrangement were still part of ongoing talks.

The official, who spoke to reporters on a conference call, said negotiators made a conscious decision to focus on the south-west because it is more manageable and because the violence there has recently increased.

He said the US hoped the agreement would get the violence largely under control and allow the flow of humanitarian aid. But he noted that there are “spoilers” on the ground who are beholden to neither the US nor Russia.

He also said the limited nature of the ceasefire “doesn’t preclude a desire on our part to look at other parts of Syria” where the ceasefire could expand.

However, he said, that while the ceasefire boded well for working with Russia on other aspects of resolving the conflict, “we are being pretty cautious about it.”

Tillerson said he viewed it as the first indication of the US and Russia being able to work together in Syria, adding that he hoped it would lead to two sides working together on a political process to end the war.

Since taking office in January, Trump has escalated US involvement in the Syrian war. US forces shot down a Syrian warplane last month and launched cruise missiles at a Syrian airfield in April after the airfield was used to launch a chemical weapons attack that killed more than 80 civilians.

In response to the US strikes against its ally, Russia said it would sever a military communications agreement with Washington and warned it would track US fighter jets operating in western Syria.