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Syria ceasefire proposal inspires cautious relief

The US, Russia, and other nations have agreed to a truce in Syria after one week, allowing humanitarian aid to reach besieged Syrians and offering the first respite from the Syrian civil war since a failed ceasefire in 2012. 

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    In this photo released by the Syrian official news agency SANA, Syrians gather in a street that was hit by shelling, in the predominantly Christian and Armenian neighborhood of Suleimaniyeh, Aleppo, Syria, April 11, 2015. Negotiations concluded for ceasefire in the civil war on Friday.
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International negotiators called for a ceasefire in the Syrian civil war and a humanitarian airdrop on Friday, the first sign of progress from negotiations in Munich.

What Secretary of State John Kerry called "a pause" in the fighting is set to begin in one week, with the promise of further talks leading to a cease-fire, David Sanger reported for The New York Times. As per the agreement with Russia and the international community, food will also be air-dropped to Syrian cities that have been besieged in recent weeks by an increase of violence that caused tens of thousands to flee toward the border with Turkey. 

"That is ambitious,” Mr. Kerry said of the tenuous deal, according to The New York Times. “The real test is whether all the parties honor those commitments.” 

Several ceasefires have been attempted during almost five years of civil war in Syria, including one in 2012 that broke down within hours and another in 2014 that centered on a particularly hard-hit city. This is a stepping-stone to truce that combines immediate aid with a plan for further peace talks to develop a long-term ceasefire agreement, but the process demonstrates how Syria's fate has become subject to international power-jockeying across the Middle East, Howard LaFranchi wrote for The Christian Science Monitor: 

Syria’s is no average civil war. Instead, it is a complex proxy war pitting regional powers against one another and serving as an arena where world powers, chief among them the United States and Russia, are employing their militaries with differing, if not opposing, ends. And at the moment, it is Russia and its ally, the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, that appear to have the upper hand.

Moderate Syrian rebel groups worried that Russia would use terms of the deal to continue bombing their forces, since Russia will be allowed to bomb the terrorist groups Islamic State and Jabhat al-Nusra during the ceasefire, but they have realized the United States and Europe are unwilling to confront Russia as it presses for power in the Middle East.

“The administration does not like what the Russians are doing, but they’ve been set off balance by this recent escalation and they don’t seem to feel there is anything they can do about it,” Andrew Tabler, a Syria specialist at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, told The Christian Science Monitor.

Syrians in and around Aleppo, which has taken the brunt of the recent fire, worried that Russia will use the week before the ceasefire begins to bolster the government position in the area. Russia had originally suggested a ceasefire after three weeks, but the United States and others insisted that was too long. 

"Within a week everything will have been destroyed,” Mohammed Najjar, a Syrian who fled his home along with tens of thousands of others during the fierce bombing last week, told The Washington Post. 

The moderate, US-backed rebel factions have grown weary of US and European unwillingness to fully engage on their behalf, even as Russia throws all its military might into supporting their enemy, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

"What is left of the Syrian 'moderate' opposition is deeply embittered," wrote The Christian Science Monitor correspondent Dominique Soguel. "As far as they are concerned, the US and its allies have thrown them under the bus, unwilling to give them the firepower or protection necessary to resist a resurgent Russian-backed regime now pushing into Aleppo, a critical opposition redoubt."

Moderate Syrian groups opposed to the current president welcomed the ceasefire as a means of decreasing suffering in Syria, which they had originally made a prerequisite to further negotiations, but they question whether it will last without enforcement, Liz Sly and Zakaria Zakaria reported for the Washington Post.

“We want a cease-fire and a political solution, but not just any cease-fire,” said Ahmed Saoud, who leads a US-supported fighting division, according to the Post. "We need international monitoring." 

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