Fighting in Syria rages ahead of cease-fire – Washington Post

Warring parties in Syria’s multifaceted civil war have continued to fight and jostle for territory on Friday ahead of a partial cease-fire that is supposed to come into effect at midnight.

The truce has been pushed by the United States and Russia, which back opposing sides in the conflict, as a last-ditch measure to reduce hostilities that have produced a dangerously intensifying proxy war involving regional and world powers.

The Syrian government and its opposition are expected to declare their official support for the plan today to the U.N. envoy to Syria, Staffan de Mistura, who will then brief the United Nations Security Council.

The 15-member body circulated a draft resolution on Thursday backing the plan, which they hope to endorse Friday, Reuters reported. The draft, obtained by the news organization, demands, among other things, that “all parties to whom the cessation of hostilities applies … fulfill their commitments.”

Moreover, de Mistura has said he intends to resume peace negotiations that quickly collapsed earlier this month because pro-government forces, backed by Russian airstrikes, made startling advances against rebels in northern Syria near the city of Aleppo.

Activists, meanwhile, said forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad continued to battle rebels in the northwestern Latakia province, a strategic area where opposition forces are fed cross-border supplies from neighboring Turkey, an opponent of the Syrian leader.

Ankara has expressed tentative support for the agreement along with the Syrian Kurdish forces that it has been targeting with cross-border attacks. Turkey, which says it still has the right to respond to threats inside Syria, opposes those forces because of their links with domestic Kurdish separatists.

Assad also favors the truce, which excludes the Islamic State, al-Qaeda-affiliated Jabhat al-Nusra and other groups classified as terrorists. His government’s warplanes have been pounding rebel-held areas near Damascus, the capital, including Daraya. Residents of that area have faced an escalation in air raids in recent days, according to activists from the area.

Daraya residents reject claims by the Assad government that Islamic State and al-Qaeda fighters operate in their area.

Also on Friday, multiple airstrikes hit the rebel-held Eastern Ghouta area near the capital, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which monitors the conflict.

The main Saudi-backed opposition group also has given the cease-fire plan cautious backing, declaring that it would give the process two weeks to determine whether pro-government forces were serious in observing it. The group, known as the Higher Negotiations Committee, has said its acceptance depends on whether the Syrian government ends sieges of 18 rebel-held areas and releases detainees.

On Thursday, it released a statement in support of the truce that also expressed a number of reservations, including a lack of clarity in terms of enforcement as well the delineation of areas that could be attacked once the cease-fire comes into effect. In its statement, the group expressed concern over Russia’s role as a “partner to the United States in ensuring the implementation of the cessation of hostilities.”

In September, Russia intervened militarily in the conflict to prop up Assad, firing deadly air raids that Syrians say have killed militants but also scores of civilians and laid waste to hospitals and other non-combatant infrastructure.

The United States, which backs Syria’s opposition, and Russia plan to co-chair a Cease-fire Task Force that is supposed to meet Friday and attempt to demarcate territory held by the Islamic State and al-Qaeda. It will also help with monitoring and enforcing compliance and establish a hotline for exchanging information about the cease-fire.

Jabhat al-Nusra, the al-Qaeda affiliate, poses particular problems because the group’s militants are interwoven with other rebel fighters. Syrian opposition media reported Thursday that Nusra militants had evacuated some areas in the rebel-held Idlib province to avoid attack after the cease-fire comes into force.

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