World powers on Friday agreed on an ambitious plan to cease hostilities in war-wracked Syria within a week and dramatically ramp up humanitarian access at talks in Munich aimed at ending the five-year war.
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The 17 countries agreed “to implement a nationwide cessation of hostilities to begin in a target of one week’s time,” said United States (US) Secretary of State John Kerry after extended talks co-hosted by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.
The International Syria Support Group also agreed “to accelerate and expand the delivery of humanitarian aid beginning immediately”. “Sustained delivery will begin this week, first to the areas where it is most urgently needed and then to all the people in need throughout the country, particularly in the besieged and hard to reach areas,” said Kerry. An onslaught on the key rebel stronghold of Aleppo by Syrian government troops, backed by Russian bombers and Iranian fighters, derailed peace talks this month and forced 50,000 people to flee. The bombardments have left the opposition virtually encircled and observers say 500 people have died since they began on February 1, the latest hellish twist in a war that has claimed more than 260,000 lives.
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Kerry said talks between rebels and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime would resume as soon as possible, but warned that “what we have here are words on paper”. “What we need to see in the next few days are actions on the ground,” he said. Host German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier agreed, adding that “whether this really is a breakthrough we will see in the next few days”. “When the whole world sees whether today’s agreements are kept and implemented by the Assad regime and the Syrian opposition, by Hezbollah and opposition militias, and also by Russia,” he said.