The deal brokered by the United States and Russia to cease hostilities in war-torn Syria was immediately violated by both government and rebel forces shortly after going into effect Monday, according to reports from the region.
Not an hour after the ceasefire took effect, residents in Aleppo said government forces had targeted a rebel-held area with explosives, according to the New York Times. A rebel group also claimed to have killed several government soldiers following the planned cessation of hostilities.
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Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov announced the deal Friday from Geneva, after weeks of failing to come to an agreement and threats from Russia to again suspend talks until a later date. The deal is aimed at reducing violence between rebel groups and Syrian government forces to allow humanitarian aid into the country and pave the way for a peace process.
The deal is the second brokered between the United States and Russia this year to cease hostilities in Syria. The first deal fell apart in March.
It is meant to involve greater information sharing between the United States and Russia, which has been bombing rebel-held areas in support of the Bashar al Assad regime.
"It’s not going to hold," Michael Rubin, a former Pentagon official and resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, told the Washington Free Beacon. "The United States has shown that there is no penalty for violation of any agreement and there is no penalty, there is no recompensation, for violations under the ceasefire agreement."
The announcement of the deal was followed by an uptick in violence attributed to Russian and government airstrikes on rebel-held areas. Over the weekend, Russian and Syrian government strikes largely targeting Idlib and Aleppo killed at least 91 people and wounded many more, the New York Times reported, citing reports from doctors, rescuers, and groups monitoring the conflict. More than 2,000 people are estimated to have been killed in Aleppo over the past 40 days, including 160 children.
"Assad will try to kill as much as possible before the claimed cease-fire," an anti-government activist told the Times immediately following the announcement of the deal. "A lot of shelling and bombs will fall upon civilians, especially the almost empty markets."
Rebel groups expressed reservations over the deal leading up to the planned adoption at sundown Monday; the leader of Division 13, a U.S.-backed Free Syrian Army group, speculated that the truce could be "a military trap to kill us more."
"What truce, when the regime commits a massacre in Idlib?" wrote Ahmad Saud, commander of Division 13, on Twitter. "I am starting to feel that the truce is a military trap to kill us more."
Assad vowed on Monday to retake Syria from "terrorists" during a rare public appearance, shortly before the ceasefire went into effect.
"By coming to this area, [we] send a message that the Syrian state is determined to retake every area from the terrorists," Assad said during remarks in Daraya, which was recently reclaimed from rebel control by government forces. Assad said that his government is committed to "freedom that starts with restoring security and safety, goes through reconstruction and ends with the independent national decision."
Past agreements between the United States and Russia to halt fighting in Syria have been unsuccessful. A ceasefire that went into effect in February swiftly unraveled, with opposition groups accusing Russian and government forces of breaching the ceasefire and Moscow accusing anti-government forces of doing the same.
Kerry on Friday described the latest deal as a "more proscriptive and far-reaching approach" than past efforts to end the conflict. Under the deal, the Assad regime will not fly combat missions anywhere near opposition groups, and anti-government groups will also cease hostilities. Given a sustained seven-day period of lessened violence, the United States and Russia will begin to work together to strike ISIS and al-Nusra, which will involve greater information sharing between the two nations.
But the administration’s willingness to cooperate with Russia, at a time of heightened tensions and distrust, has been met with criticism.
"It just takes the credulity of Kerry and the administration to a new level," Rubin told the Free Beacon. "They’ve become everyone’s chumps. You can bet that, they may share information, but the sharing is going to be one way."
The deal comes at a point of strained relations between the United States and Russia, as Moscow has continued its occupation of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula in defiance of U.S. and EU sanctions. The U.S. Treasury earlier this month expanded sanctions against Russian individuals and entities contributing to the conflict in Ukraine, leading Russia’s foreign ministry to slam "reckless" U.S. policy and threaten reciprocal measures.
Moscow has also objected to NATO’s plan to bolster forces in Eastern Europe in an effort to deter Russian aggression.
Friday’s ceasefire deal came together after Kerry and Lavrov failed to come to an agreement at the G-20 Summit in Hangzhou, China, last week, the second time in 10 days that such efforts had fallen short despite a 90-minute discussion between Putin and President Obama aimed at resolving differences. Lavrov threatened to suspend talks on Friday and postpone them another week, joking that "it takes five hours for our friends to check with Washington."
The Obama administration’s diplomatic efforts have failed to bring about negotiations in Syria to achieve a political transition. While the administration has long said that Assad must be removed from power, Kerry said last year that the United States would be open to a timeline in which Assad remains in power for a period of time before stepping down. The admission was viewed by some as a concession to Russia.
Rubin predicted Monday that the Assad regime and Russia will continue to use airstrikes, artillery, or other violent measures to kill members of the opposition despite the ceasefire agreement. He said that the Syrian regime and Russia from the start have aimed to create a "binary" choice for the Syrian population between Assad and ISIS, and hence a victory for the former.
At least 250,000 Syrians—and possibly many more—have been killed in the more than five-year-long civil war.