Syria accepts ceasefire deal

A Syrian soldier guards a checkpoint on the outskirts of Raqa, on February 19, 2016 (AFP Photo)
The Syrian government on Tuesday accepted the terms of a ceasefire deal announced by the United States and Russia, according to a foreign ministry statement seen by AFP.
The statement said the government would stop armed operations but would "continue counter-terrorism efforts" against the Islamic State group, Al-Qaeda and affiliated groups.
IS and Al-Qaeda were excluded from the ceasefire agreement announced on Monday.
Announced by top diplomats in Munich earlier this month, the ceasefire failed to take hold by last Friday as initially planned.
Part of a plan that also included expanded humanitarian access, the proposal aims to pave the way for a resumption of peace talks that collapsed earlier this month in Geneva.
The talks had been scheduled to resume on February 25, but the UN Syria envoy has acknowledged that date is no longer realistic.
Syria\’s main opposition umbrella group, the High Negotiations Committee (HNC), was meeting in the Saudi capital Riyadh on Monday for talks on the ceasefire and peace talks efforts.
Spokesman Monzer Makhous told AFP the meeting was expected to continue for two or three days.
The HNC has said any ceasefire must include provisions for Russia, Iran and foreign militia forces backing the regime to stop fighting.
Russia launched air strikes in Syria last September against what it said were "terrorists" but has been accused of bombing non-jihadist rebel forces in support of President Bashar al-Assad, a longtime ally.
Iran has sent military advisors to Syria and the Tehran-backed Lebanese Shiite movement Hezbollah has deployed at least 6,000 militants to fight with Assad.
Iran would have to be on board for any ceasefire to work and Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu made a surprise visit to Tehran on Sunday, saying he was delivering a "special message" from Putin to President Hassan Rouhani.
Efforts have been intensifying to resolve Syria\’s war — which has left more than 260,000 dead, forced millions from their homes and devastated the country — as the conflict approaches the five-year mark.
The rise of IS, which has seized large parts of Syria and neighbouring Iraq and become the preeminent global jihadist group, has focused attention on the need for a solution.
On Monday, top military commanders from 30 nations fighting IS as part of a US-led coalition gathered in Kuwait to discuss ways to defeat the jihadists.
"As military leaders, it is our responsibility to double efforts and urgently work out suitable plans to eliminate all terrorist groups threatening many countries in the world," said Kuwaiti chief of staff General Mohammad al-Khader.
IS\’s attacks on Sunday drew sharp criticism from Moscow, which said the blasts were aimed at undermining peace efforts.
"The atrocious crimes of extremists are aimed at scaring the peaceful population, subverting attempts to reach a long-term political settlement to the Syrian crisis," the Russian foreign ministry said in a statement.
Moscow\’s air strikes have helped regime forces make important gains, particularly in recent weeks around the second city of Aleppo.
But their efforts to take Aleppo city — long divided into regime- and rebel-held areas — were dealt a setback on Monday.
IS and other jihadists cut a vital supply route linking the west of Aleppo with other government-held territory, the Observatory said.
The road between Aleppo and the town of Khanasser to the southeast was the only way regime forces and civilians living in government-controlled neighbourhoods of the city could travel to surrounding provinces.
If government forces are unable to recapture the road, it could slow their offensive in the area.
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