Syria’s opposition has agreed on Saturday to the “possibility” of a two- to three-week truce, on condition that Damascus’s allies including Russia would lift sieges and cease fire, allowing aid deliveries across the country, a source close to peace talks said on Saturday.
Russian air strikes began last September and redressed the balance in Syria’s five-year civil war in Bashar al-Assad’s favor, to the frustration of the United States and its allies who have backed the opposition trying to topple the president.
Several attempts to come to an agreement on a truce have failed in recent months. The latest round of talks at the United Nations in Geneva is being jointly chaired by Russia and the United States.
Lifting sieges imposed on civilians has become another key sticking point in talks to end the conflict.
The U.N. estimates there are 486,700 people in around 15 besieged areas of Syria, and 4.6 million in hard-to-reach areas. In some, starvation deaths and severe malnutrition have been reported.
On Saturday, several Syrian opposition factions “expressed agreement on the possibility of reaching a temporary truce deal, to be reached through international mediation,” a statement from the High Negotiations Committee said.
“The message has been conveyed very clearly now that the opposition is willing to enter into a two- to three-week truce, and that’s open to renewal if the conditions are right and both sides are willing to renew it,” the source said.
However, a halt to Russian bombardments did not look immediately possible.
The spokesman for Russia’s President Vladimir Putin, Dmitry Peskov, reassured Russia’s consistent policy of rendering assistance and aid to the armed forces of Syria to fight terrorist organizations.
U.S. and Russian military officials met ahead of the wider Geneva meeting, diplomats said on Friday.
The High Negotiations Committee, which joins various armed groups and Syria’s exiled political opposition, said the U.N. must guarantee “holding Russia and Iran and sectarian militias … to a halt to fighting”. All sides should cease fire simultaneously and the government should release prisoners, it added.
The opposition also asked for vulnerable prisoners, including women and children, to be released.
The truce would be renewable and supported by all parties except ISIS, the source said. It would also be conditional on the al Qaeda-linked Nusra Front no longer being targeted, at least to start with, the source said.
The Nusra Front is considered a terrorist organization by the U.N. Security Council.
Asked if the opposition’s insistence on the Nusra Front no longer being targeted was the main stumbling block, he described it as “the elephant in the room”.
“They have to deal with this very delicately or they are going to end up with a civil war in Idlib on their hands,” the source said.