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Russia, Iran, Turkey back expansion of truce in Syria

December 21, 2016

Russia, Turkey and Iran have agreed to guarantee Syria peace talks and support widening a ceasefire across the war-torn country. Meanwhile, the final evacuations out of east Aleppo appeared to be on hold.

Syrien Evakuierung in Aleppo
Image: Getty Images/AFP/H. Kadour

The foreign and defense ministers of Iran, Russia and Turkey agreed on Tuesday to act as guarantors for a Syrian ceasefire deal, inviting other nations that have influence with Syrian groups to help reach an agreement.

"Iran, Russia and Turkey are ready to assist in preparing the agreement in the making between the Syrian government and the opposition and to become its guarantor," Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, citing a joint statement.

The nations, which supported opposing sides in the six-year Syrian war, met for trilateral talks in Moscow, casting themselves as the essential dealmakers that could pave the way for a future settlement.

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Lavrov added that the ministers agreed on "the importance of widening the ceasefire, of free access for humanitarian aid and movement of civilians on Syrian territory."

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said the ceasefire should cover all of Syria but exclude extremist groups "Islamic State" and al-Qaida's branch in Syria, the Fatah al-Sham Front.

Russia and Iran back Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his government while Turkey supports opposition groups seeking to topple him. But Lavrov cited an Ankara and Moscow brokered Aleppo evacuation deal as proof of the efficiency of the trilateral cooperation. 

The meeting, which the United States was notably absent from, came a day after the Russian ambassador in Turkey was shot dead. Both Moscow and Ankara vowed the attack wouldn't hurt their rapprochement.

Final Aleppo evacuations stalled

In the war-torn city of Aleppo, evacuations of civilians and rebel fighters temporarily halted on Tuesday night.

A source close to the Syrian military told German news agency DPA said around 62 buses entered the last rebel-held enclave to evacuate the last civilians and rebel fighters.

Rebels then reportedly posed new demands for the release of detainees, the Syrian military source said. The statements could not be immediately confirmed with rebel sources.

The Russian foreign minister said on Tuesday that it would take another one or two days to complete the evacuations, which had nearly finished.

The exact number of people seeking evacuation from Aleppo - and those who have already left - remains unclear.

The head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 17,000 civilians and 5,000 fighters have left. The International Committee of the Red Cross, which has been overseeing the evacuations said some 25,000 people have exited eastern Aleppo, while Turkish Foreign Minister put the figure higher at 37,500.

The six-year conflict in Syria has killed over 310,000 people and triggered a major humanitarian and refugee crisis.

rs/sms (AP, AFP, dpa, Reuters)