Damascus is ready for a ceasefire but will not tolerate terrorists exploiting it to restore their positions or receive support from abroad, Syrian president Bashar Assad said as the top Russian and US diplomats discussed “practical cooperation” in implementing the truce.
“We have said that we are ready to stop military operations,” Syrian president Bashar Assad stated, while noting that the nationwide cessation of hostilities “relates to more important factors.”
First of all, for the truce to hold, terror groups must be prevented from “using it to improve their positions,” Assad said in an interview with the Spanish EL PAIS Newspaper. Secondly, any ceasefire deal must ensure that “other countries, especially Turkey, are prevented from sending more terrorists and weapons, or any kind of logistical support.”
“More than 80 countries supported those terrorists in different ways, some of them directly with money, with logistical support, with armaments, with recruitments,” Assad said. “Some other countries supported them politically, in different international forums.”
When the ceasefire takes place, the fight will still continue against Al-Nusra and ISIS, as well as radical Islamist Ahrar al-Sham and Jaysh al-Islam, the Syrian president said, once again stressing that in order for the truce to work the borders must be sealed.
That is what the Syrian army and the Kurdish forces have been doing around Aleppo lately, Assad said: “closing the roads between Turkey and between the terrorist groups.”
“That’s why Turkey has been shelling the Kurds recently,” he added.
Meanwhile the Russian FM, Sergey Lavrov, and his US counterpart, John Kerry, discussed “practical cooperation” on Syria between the US and Russia during a telephone call on Saturday.
The two ministers have discussed humanitarian relief operations and exchanged their views on the practical aspects of cooperation between the two countries in reaching a nationwide ceasefire in Syria that would exclude terrorist groups. They stressed the necessity to establish a close cooperation between the US and Russian military, in order to achieve the goals set by the International Syria Support Group (ISSG) in Munich on February 12, the Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement on Saturday.
During the telephone conversation, Lavrov and Kerry also discussed the progress of the inter-Syrian talks in Geneva paying attention to the issue of developing “modalities” towards reaching a ceasefire.
“Those modalities are not yet fully agreed upon, but both ministers appreciated the scope and attention to detail task force members applied in drafting them,” US State Department spokesman John Kirby said during a press-briefing commenting on the two ministers’ conversation.
Both sides welcomed the progress in delivering humanitarian aid to the blockaded Syrian territories. The Russian foreign minister also emphasized that “Turkey’s provocative actions that undermine the territorial integrity of the Syrian Arab Republic” are “inexcusable.”
In the meantime, the US and Russian representatives in Geneva have reportedly agreed on a document outlining the cessation of violence in Syria that stipulates the measures that each party to the conflict should take in order to reach the truce.
“A document on the cessation of hostile actions [by each conflicting party] is ready, Russia and the US have agreed [upon it],” a source in the delegation of the Syria opposition groups that previously met in Moscow and Cairo told RIA Novosti, adding that the document should now be approved “at the high level.”
The document will “come into force within a week after it is adopted,” the source said. According to the source that saw the draft document, it does not include Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) and Al-Nusra Front terrorist groups.
Saudi-backed opposition doesn’t want Al-Nusra Front being targeted – report
At the same time, another group of Syrian opposition factions also known as the High Negotiations Committee, which is backed by Saudi Arabia and Turkey, has set its own conditions for a “possible” temporary ceasefire that reportedly include demands not to target the Al-Qaeda affiliated Al Nusra Front terrorist group.
Various Syrian opposition factions “expressed agreement on the possibility of reaching a temporary truce deal, to be reached through international mediation,” a statement from the High Negotiations Committee said on Saturday adding that Damascus’s allies including Russia must cease fire.
A source close to peace talks earlier told Reuters that one of the conditions was that Al-Qaeda-linked Al-Nusra Front would not be targeted by the government forces and their allies.
“They have to deal with this very delicately or they are going to end up with a civil war in [Syrian province of] Idlib on their hands,” the source said.