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Fragile ceasefire in Syria breached, Russia says

February 28, 2016 at 5:11 PM EST
On the second day of the ceasefire ind Syria brokered by the U.S. and Russia, opposition groups claimed Syrian President Bashar al-Assad violated the truce. Washington Post reporter Liz Sly joins Hari Sreenivasan via Skype from Turkey to discuss.
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HARI SREENIVASAN: The ceasefire in Syria brokered by the United States and Russia is showing cracks on its second day. Syria’s capital of Damascus was calm, but opposition groups claimed Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has violated the truce.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said today there were airstrikes on two Northern Syrian villages, but didn’t know who carried them out. The ceasefire covers government forces and opposition groups, but not militants of the Islamic State group, or ISIS, or the Nusra Front, an al-Qaida affiliate.

Joining me now via Skype from Turkey is Washington Post reporter Liz Sly.

Liz, the truce has been up for more than 24 hours. What are you hearing today?

LIZ SLY, The Washington Post: Well, it’s looking a little bit wobbly today.

We have had quite a few Russian airstrikes, not as many as unusual, but a number in the north of the country, enough to let people know that the airstrikes are back. And there’s been some quite significant fighting in the east of the country, which is somewhat separate from the Syrian truce.

This is Islamic State attacking America’s Kurdish allies in the north. And American warplanes have had to go and rescue them from what looked like quite a nasty situation.

HARI SREENIVASAN: So, the Islamic State, of course, wasn’t party to this truce.

LIZ SLY: Right, they were not party to the truce.

And pretty much the day before the truce, actually, they stormed into a northern town of Tal Abyad, which is in the Kurdish self-proclaimed autonomous region that they are carving out up there. And they pretty much took control of the town for a few hours.

They took over several buildings. They rampaged through the town. They beheaded a tribal leader. And U.S. airplanes were called in and carried out a large number of strikes, hitting their positions and pushing them back from most of the town. But we understand that there are still some Islamic State people there on the edge of the town, perhaps holding some hostages.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Do the rebel groups that are party to this believe that this truce is a stepping-stone to a longer-lasting peace, that these peace talks can happen, or do they think maybe that this is a tactical move by Assad and the Russians?

LIZ SLY: Well, the rebels are extremely suspicious.

The government, helped by the Russians now, now has the upper hand in the fighting in Syria. They have been making a lot of advances. Nobody really sees what interest it is — it is for the Syrians at the moment to abide by a truce and halt their gains. The Syrian government has made it clear it believes now that, with the Russian support, it can win this fight completely.

So, yes, a lot of rebels are deeply suspicious. But, at the same time, they are on the back foot. They are not nearly in a position at the moment to challenge the truce. And it could potentially work to their advantage if it does freeze the lines — the front lines where they are right now.

HARI SREENIVASAN: What about the idea that, in — March 7, the U.N. could try to restart peace talks? Is anybody on the ground thinking that far ahead?

LIZ SLY: Well, after what we have seen today with new airstrikes, new fighting, I think most people are a bit worried that the truce won’t hold long enough.

But I think the world powers are really very determined to have this happen. And they could well usher their allies on the ground to those talks, even if the fighting does start up again.

HARI SREENIVASAN: All right, Liz Sly of The Washington Post, joining us via Skype from Gaziantep in Turkey, thanks so much.

LIZ SLY: Thank you.

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