U.S. warns Syria unity at risk

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U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry warned Tuesday that it may be difficult to keep Syria whole if it takes much longer to end the fighting after Syria’s regime agreed in the same day to the ceasefire deal announced by the United States and Russia.

“It may be too late to keep it as a whole Syria if we wait much longer,” he told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee at a hearing on the State Department’s annual budget request.

Kerry also said that, even if Russian-backed forces took the city of Aleppo, it is hard to hold territory in Syria. 

He also said it will be seen “very quickly” whether countries are serious about Syria cessation of hostilities agreement, adding that there are several other options being considered if Syria cessation of hostilities does not take hold.

“Anybody who thinks that there is impunity for violating this… is making a grave mistake,” he said after its Republican chairman, Senator Bob Corker, said he did not believe there would be any consequences under President Barack Obama.

“There is a significant discussion taking place now about Plan B if we don’t succeed at the table,” Kerry said.

French President Francois Hollande also said Tuesday the Syrian ceasefire must be fully and promptly implemented, after discussing it with the leaders of Britain, Germany and the United States.

“A ceasefire has been announced. It must be fully respected and the sooner, the better,” Hollande told reporters during a visit to Peru.

He said the four Western powers would join forces to push for “discussions on a real political transition” in Syria.

All four countries called for an end to the humanitarian crisis in Syria and urged the regime of President Bashar al-Assad to cooperate in the aid effort for those affected.

“Pressure must be exerted on the Syrian regime and its supporters, in this case Russia, so that the bombings cease and so humanitarian aid can be transported” to hard-hit spots such as Aleppo, he said.

“It is high time for this, otherwise refugees will continue to come and there will be an unbearable humanitarian situation in Turkey,” one of Syria’s neighbors where countless refugees have fled.

Hundreds of thousands of refugees fleeing fighting in Syria have risked their lives trying to reach Europe.

Syria’s regime agreed Tuesday to the ceasefire deal announced a day earlier by the United States and Russia, aimed at halting its nearly five-year civil war, a foreign ministry statement said.

The statement said the government would stop armed operations but would “continue counter-terrorism efforts” against ISIS, al-Qaeda and affiliated groups.

The deal was announced on Monday by Moscow and Washington and excludes ISIS and al-Qaeda.

“To guarantee that the cessation of hostilities will successfully start on the set date of Saturday, February 27, the Syrian government is ready to continue coordinating with Russia to determine the areas and armed groups that will fall under this ceasefire,” the statement said.

It said the armed forces reserved the right to respond to any attack by opposition groups.

Analysts say that given the facts on the ground – in particular the complex make-up of rebel forces and frequently shifting frontlines – the ceasefire may already be doomed to fail.

In northern Syria especially, many non-militant rebel groups have operational ties with al-Qaeda’s Syria affiliate, al-Nusra.

Agencies

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