UN backs Syria ceasefire, peace talks to re-start 7 March
By Carole Landry
Syria's government and rebels will re-start peace talks on 7 March if a ceasefire holds and more humanitarian aid reaches civilians, the UN envoy said on Friday.
UN envoy Staffan de Mistura announced the date for the new round of talks less than an hour before a cessation of hostilities was due to enter into force at 2200 GMT.
The UN Security Council threw its weight behind the ceasefire agreement, unanimously adopting a resolution drafted by Russia and the United States that demanded all parties halt fighting.
"Assuming that the cessation of hostilities largely holds - God willing - and the humanitarian access continues unabated, I intend to reconvene ... the talks, the intra-Syrian talks, on Monday, March 7," de Mistura told the Security Council.
"Saturday will be critical," de Mistura said. "No doubt, there will be no shortage of attempts to undermine this process."
The cessation of hostilities between President Bashar al-Assad's forces and rebel fighters excludes the Islamic State (IS) group and the al-Qaeda-linked al-Nusra Front, which control large swaths of territory.
US Ambassador Samantha Power acknowledged that there was "some scepticism" as to whether the ceasefire will take hold, but said it offered the "best chance to reduce the violence".
Taking a swipe at Russia and Syria for intensifying air strikes, Power said it was "hard to seem serious and sincere about ceasing hostilities when you ramp up fighting right up to the minute the cessation of hostilities is to take effect".
Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov said the ceasefire agreement "can contribute to a turning point" in the five-year war that has left more than 270,000 dead.
"We now have a real chance to stop the violence and step up our collective fight against terrorism," he said.
The resolution endorses the ceasefire deal and "demands" that the cessation of hostilities "begin at midnight (Damascus time)".
The measure urges all countries, in particular those taking part in the Syrian peace process, to "use their influence with the parties to the cessation of hostilities to ensure fulfilment of those commitments".
It renews a call to allow humanitarian aid to be quickly and safely delivered once the ceasefire takes hold, in particular to besieged and hard-to-reach areas.
It lists about 30 areas in need of urgent aid deliveries, including eastern and western rural Aleppo and the eastern city of Deir Ezzor, which is under siege by IS fighters.
The United Nations was forced to suspend peace talks in early February as Syrian government forces, backed by Russian air power, went on the offensive in northern Aleppo province.
De Mistura urged world powers to work to "ensure that the parties come to Geneva again ready to engage and to stay engaged on substantive issues".