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Saturday 3 December 2016

More work needed for full ceasefire in Syria, says John Kerry

Published 12/02/2016 | 02:30

US secretary of state John Kerry, right, and Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov reveal the ceasefire agreement after the International Syria Support Group meeting in Munich (AP)
US secretary of state John Kerry, right, and Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov reveal the ceasefire agreement after the International Syria Support Group meeting in Munich (AP)

Diplomats have agreed to work towards a temporary "cessation of hostilities" in Syria's civil war within a week, although efforts to secure a lasting ceasefire fell short.

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The deal appeared to be the result of a compromise between the US, which had wanted an immediate ceasefire, and Russia, which had proposed one to start on March 1.

Although foreign ministers from the International Syria Support Group managed to seal an agreement to "accelerate and expand" deliveries of humanitarian aid to besieged Syrian communities beginning this week, their failure to agree on a ceasefire leaves the most critical step to resuming peace talks unresolved.

Speaking for the support group, US secretary of state John Kerry hailed the result as a significant accomplishment but noted that a cessation of hostilities would only be a "pause" in fighting and that more work would be needed to turn it into a fully fledged ceasefire.

He also acknowledged that the agreements were "commitments on paper" only.

"The real test is whether or not all the parties honour those commitments and implement them," he told reporters after the near six-hour meeting at a Munich hotel, which ran into the early hours of Friday.

Russian prime minister Dmitry Medvedev warned that a full-scale ground operation in Syria could widen the conflict.

"A ground operation draws everyone taking part in it into a war," Mr Medvedev said.

When asked about a recent proposal from Saudi Arabia to send in ground troops, he said: "The Americans and our Arab partners must consider whether or not they want a permanent war."

He criticised Western powers' refusal to collaborate with Russia in Syria, adding that ties at the level of defence departments are only sporadic.

Humanitarian access to the battle-scarred country is to be discussed by a working group in Geneva. It is key to relieving the suffering of millions of Syrians in the short term.

Mr Kerry and Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov said the US and Russia would co-chair the working group on humanitarian aid as well as a taskforce that will try to deal with the "modalities" of the temporary truce.

The taskforce will include members of the military along with representatives from countries that are supporting various armed groups in Syria. The Syrian government and the opposition would both have to agree to the details.

Press Association

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