All eyes on Syria as ceasefire deadline looms

Beirut, Feb 26: US President Barack Obama has warned Moscow and Damascus the "world will be watching" their commitment to a looming ceasefire, as the 17-nation group backing the Syria peace process prepared to fine-tune the deal.

Obama said the next few days would be critical for the partial truce brokered by Moscow and Washington -- due to begin at midnight today -- which has been agreed by both President Bashar al-Assad's regime and Syria's top opposition grouping.


The deal -- which excludes the Islamic State (IS) jihadist group and other extremists -- marks the biggest diplomatic push yet to help end Syria's violence, but has been plagued by doubts after the failure of previous peace efforts.

Members of the 17-nation group backing the process are to meet in Geneva today to work out further details of the agreement, which is expected to be endorsed by the UN Security Council on the same day, diplomats said.

There are hopes a successful "cessation of hostilities" will lead to the resumption of peace talks that collapsed in Geneva earlier this month. "Tomorrow is going to be a very important, I will say a crucial day," the UN's Syria envoy Staffan de Mistura told reporters at the UN's European headquarters in Geneva yesterday.

The agreement allows military action to continue against IS, which seized control of large parts of Syria and Iraq in 2014, as well as against the Al-Qaeda affiliated Al-Nusra Front and other jihadist groups. Obama said he was certain those groups would continue to fight, but stressed the US-led coalition was winning the war against IS, citing territorial gains.

He also said he was not "under any illusions" about possible pitfalls, but that the ceasefire could help bring about an end to the war. "A lot of that is going to depend on whether the Syrian regime, Russia, and their allies live up to their commitments," Obama said.

"The coming days will be critical, and the world will be watching." Russian President Vladimir Putin has promised to do "whatever is necessary" to ensure the ceasefire is implemented.

Russia and the United States are on opposing sides of the conflict, with Moscow backing Assad and Washington supporting the opposition, but the two powers have been making a concerted push for the ceasefire to be respected. 


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