Doubts cast over Assad’s ceasefire intentions

A rebel fighter runs through dust towards an area damaged by what activists said were barrel bombs dropped by warplanes loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad, in Aleppo's al-Shaar neighborhood November 6, 2014.

A rebel fighter runs through dust towards an area damaged by what activists said were barrel bombs dropped by warplanes loyal to Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad, in Aleppo’s al-Shaar neighborhood November 6, 2014.

The United States on Monday cast doubt on reports that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is ready to implement a U.N. plan for local ceasefires, saying the regime had a poor record sticking to truces.

“We certainly support ceasefires that would provide genuine relief to Syrian civilians and are consistent with humanitarian principles,” State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said.

But she added that “unfortunately many local truces achieved thus far have more closely resembled surrender arrangements, as opposed to genuine, sustainable ceasefire arrangements.”

Washington’s view “continues to be that the Assad regime bears overwhelming responsibility for this humanitarian disaster and the daily suffering of the Syrian people,” Psaki told reporters.

“We’re just cognizant of the history on some of these local ceasefires.”

Psaki also acknowledged that “we’re obviously not at the place right now where both sides are going to be back at the table” to negotiate a peace deal after the failure of Geneva talks earlier this year.

Aleppo ceasefire

On Monday, Assad said that the U.N. envoy’s proposal to implement a ceasefire in the embattled northern city of Aleppo was “worth studying,” the Associated Press reported.

“President Assad … considered that the initiative of de Mistura was worth studying and trying to work on to achieve its goals of returning security to the city of Aleppo,” said the statement, published by the state-run SANA news agency.

It was not immediately clear whether Assad’s remarks reflected a change in the government’s stance, or an attempt to appear open to the idea without committing to it.

The envoy, Staffan de Mistura, first raised the idea of small-scale, localized and negotiated truces in Syria at the United Nations in New York late last month.

The proposal would involve freezing the fighting in certain areas to allow for humanitarian aid and local steps as part of a push toward a wider peace in Syria’s 3 ½-year civil war that has killed more than 200,000.

Also on Monday, de Mistura met with Assad in Damascus for talks that touched on the idea of a local cease-fire in Aleppo, Syria’s former commercial hub and the last major city where rebels still hold large areas as they battle government forces.

De Mistura, who is a on a three-day trip to Syria aimed at reducing the violence, also traveled Monday to the central city of Homs, where he visited mosques and churches that were once in rebel-held districts before a local cease-fire agreement earlier this year brought an end to the fighting.

 
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