World powers continue attempt to negotiate Syria ceasefire

US Secretary of State John Kerry is flanked by Russia's foreign minister Sergei Lavrov and UN special envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura in Munich. Picture: Getty Images

US Secretary of State John Kerry is flanked by Russia's foreign minister Sergei Lavrov and UN special envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura in Munich. Picture: Getty Images

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Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has said that he intends to retake “the whole country” from rebel forces as world powers meet to arrange a temporary ceasefire within a week.

Mr Assad said that defeating the groups ranged against him could take some time due to the involvement of regional forces. He expressed support for peace talks but said negotiations did not mean “we stop fighting terrorism” and that his government’s eventual goal was to retake all of the country, large swathes of which are controlled by rebel forces or Islamic State (IS).

“It makes no sense for us to say that we will give up any part,” he said in an interview on Thursday in Damascus.

He went on to say that he saw a risk that Turkey and Saudi Arabia, key backers of the opposition, would intervene militarily in Syria.

World powers, including Britain and the US, agreed to an ambitious plan to cease hostilities in Syria within a week at the Munich Security Conference on Friday, but doubts have emerged over its viability, especially because it did not include IS or Al Qaeda’s local branch.

Russia had proposed the 1 March cease-fire date, which many saw as a ploy to give Moscow and the Syrian army three more weeks to try to crush Western and Arab-backed rebels. The US countered with demands for an immediate stop to the fighting.

Despite apparent concessions on potential timing of the truce and the agreement to set up the task force, the US, Russia and others remain far apart on which groups should be eligible for it. At the moment, only two groups – IS and the al-Qaida-affiliated al-Nusra Front – are ineligible because they are identified as terrorist organisations by the United Nations.

Russia, Syria and Iran argue that other groups, notably some supported by Turkey, Saudi Arabia and other Arab states, should not be eligible for the cease-fire, and there was no sign yesterday that those differences had been resolved.

US Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov said the US and Russia would co-chair both the working group on humanitarian aid as well as a task force that will try to deal with the “modalities” of the temporary truce.

Mr Kerry said the proposed truce would depend on “whether or not all the parties honour those commitments and implement them”.

He described it as a “pause” in the long-running conflict but added a long-term solution depended on the Syrian government led by Mr Assad and opposition groups engaging in “genuine negotiation” about the way forward.

However, Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister has insisted that Mr Assad must go to make it possible to defeat the IS group in Syria. He says that “we will achieve” political change in the country.

Adel al-Jubeir addressed the conference and said his country is working for political change in order to remove “a man who is the single most effective magnet for extremists and terrorists in the region”. He said “that’s our objective and we will achieve it”.

“Unless and until there is a change in Syria, Daesh will not be defeated in Syria,” he added, using the Arabic acronym for IS.

More than 250,000 people have been killed and some 11 million displaced in almost five years of fighting in the country

Some Syrian cities have been cut off from humanitarian aid for over a year because of fighting. About 13.5 million people are in need of aid, the UN said.

The UN hopes to start delivering aid to some besieged areas in Syria within the next 24 hours.

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