World leaders announce ceasefire plan in Syria, pledge swift humanitarian aid at Munich talks

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A news conference after the International Syria Support Group meeting
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and UN Special Envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura (L-R) attend a news conference after the International Syria Support Group (ISSG) meeting in Munich, Germany, February 12, 2016. Reuters

World leaders have agreed to enact a nationwide ceasefire in Syria, US Secretary of State John Kerry said at a peace conference in Germany.

The ceasefire will be aimed at breaking the deadlock in Syria by introducing a gradual cessation of hostilities. The truce will not apply to the fight with Daesh groups and other IS militants, including al Nusra.

It is expected to create conditions to revive peace talks and include swift humanitarian aid, a diplomatic source said according to Sky News.

“We did not get a deal on the immediate end of Russian bombings, but we have a commitment to a process that if it works would change the situation,” the Western diplomatic source said.

The announcements come as the Syrian army, backed by Russian air strikes, advanced attacks in the northern city of Aleppo. The airstrikes have strengthened President Bashar al-Assad’s forces, which the US and its allies fear will spell the end of their efforts to reach a political solution to the nation’s five-year civil war.

“Russia’s activities in Aleppo and in the region right now are making it much more difficult to be able to come to the table and to be able to have a serious conversation,” Kerry said earlier in the week at the peace meeting.

Peace talks of a ceasefire and humanitarian aid access have intensified over the past several weeks, but were suspended by UN Special Envoy for Syria, Staffan di Mistura, when the Russian offensive in Aleppo began at the beginning of February.

“Through the ongoing onslaught on Aleppo, Russia seeks to tip the balance of power on the ground in favour of the Assad regime, with the aim of imposing a political solution favourable to Russia,” said Khalid Saleh, a member of the National Coalition of Syrian Revolution and Opposition Forces.

Russia has made specific proposals for a political solution on their part, and is awaiting a US response, according to Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.

“We made propositions for a ceasefire that are quite specific,” Lavrov said at the conference

“We will wait for the American response before we take it to the [International Syria Support Group].”

The United States countered Russia with demands for the fighting to cease immediately. The US could not accept the nation’s offer because opposing forces could suffer irreversible losses in northern and southern Syria before the ceasefire takes hold.

With the military cutting supply routes for food, water and shelter, US officials and Western and Arab diplomats said the urgent focus was to secure humanitarian access to besieged areas like Aleppo.

The International Committee of the Red Cross estimated that approximately 50,000 people have been displaced by the continual fighting in the northern Aleppo province. The body also warned of a shortage of fuel and electricity to the region during abnormally low winter temperatures, in addition to people needing food, water and shelter.

Watch the video of US Secretary of State John Kerry announcing the ceasefire here:

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