How close are the US and Russia to a ceasefire in Syria?

The talks are the second attempt at a ceasefire. The first, in February, broke down among multiple violations from both sides.

Ammar Abdullah/Reuters
A rebel fighter who was evacuated from the besieged Damascus suburb of Daraya, following an agreement reached between rebels and Syria's army, gestures as his bus arrives at the rebel-controlled Qalaat al-Madiq town in Hama province on August 27, 2016.

Secretary of State John Kerry said on Friday that the United States and Russia were “close” to reaching a deal on a new ceasefire in Syria, potentially laying the groundwork for a new peace accord. 

"Today I can say that we achieved clarity on the path forward,” said Mr. Kerry in Geneva, where he appeared alongside his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov, according to NBC.

The ceasefire would be the second of the war, after a February attempt broke down amid ongoing violations from both sides.

Islam Alloush, a spokesperson for the Islamist rebel militia Jaish al-Islam, told Al Monitor in May that in the countryside and some suburbs of Damascus, the regime “never agreed to a ceasefire.”

"I think the regime got involved in the cease-fire to stop fighting in other areas in order to concentrate on these areas, given their strategic importance,” he said then. 

Part of the problem may be that the Syrian government, and the Alawite religious minority that makes up their base of support, fear that even a partial victory in the war may not be enough to secure their safety. And the panoply of fighting parties involved, with a raft of disparate goals and backed by various foreign powers, may also pose a frustration to lasting peace, as a New York Times analysis noted on Friday.

Kerry cautioned that work was still ongoing, with technical experts from both countries continuing to hash out details on remaining unresolved issues, which could include access to besieged neighborhoods by humanitarian-aid groups.

"Neither of us is [ready] to make an announcement that is predicated by failure,” Kerry said, according to AFP. “We don't want to have a deal for the sake of a deal."

Al Jazeera reports that negotiators sought to secure three goals in a marathon session: greater military cooperation against the self-proclaimed Islamic State, a 48-hour ceasefire in Aleppo, and a resumption of peace talks between rebels and the Syrian government.

The chief point of contention between the United States and Russia and in the war at large – Syrian president Bashar Al-Assad’s future in power – was not discussed, though on Friday, Kerry again accused the Assad’s government of continuing to bombard rebel-held civilian neighborhoods with barrel bombs and chlorine gas.

The United States has maintained that Assad must step down as part of any peace agreement, saying that his administration's war crimes make his continued rule impossible. Russia backs the president.

Since the civil war’s inception in 2011, more than 250,000 Syrians have died and over a million have been injured, according to the UN, while some 4.8 million have fled the war zones.

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