Truce deal reached for Eastern Ghouta: Syrian opposition

Syria’s government and the opposition reached a ceasefire agreement on Friday for a besieged rebel stronghold near Damascus, an opposition spokesman and a monitoring group said.

“A deal was reached Friday in Vienna to implement a ceasefire in Eastern Ghouta,” Ahmad Ramadan, a spokesman for the Syrian National Coalition (SNC), an umbrella organization for the opposition, told dpa from Vienna.

Rami Abdel-Rahman, the head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said earlier that “the agreement will go into effect at Friday midnight [2200 GMT).”

“Rebels in the area have set the condition that humanitarian aid should enter the area in the coming 48 hours, or else the agreement will be cancelled,” he said.

The deal was brokered by Russia, a major ally of Damascus, according to Abdel-Rahman.

Eastern Ghouta has been under siege by forces of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad for more than four years.

A total of 400,000 people in the region have been largely cut off from humanitarian aid since 2013.

In recent months, the Syrian regime, supported by Russia, has regained ground from Western-backed opposition fighters and militants in Syria’s devastating multi-sided conflict, which started with peaceful anti-government protests in 2011.

Representatives of the government and the opposition have been conducting separate talks during the past two days with UN special envoy to Syria, Staffan de Mistura, in Vienna.

“Our delegation has shown flexibility in the talks in Vienna,” said Yehia Aridi, another spokesman for the opposition.

He told dpa that the opposition will decide if it will participate in peace talks due to be held in the Russian resort of Sochi next week.

The January 29-30 gathering is backed by Russia and Iran – also a key ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad – and Turkey, which backs rebels fighting to oust him.

The Russian Foreign Ministry has sent some 1,600 invitations to Syrians to attend the meet, Syria’s state news agency SANA reported without giving further details.

Russia has been trying in recent weeks to change its focus from combatant to peacemaker in war-torn Syria.