Syria War: Russia, Turkey Announce Nationwide Cease-fire Starting Midnight

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A man cries over the body of his 18-year-old son at a makeshift morgue in the rebel-held town of Douma near Damascus, following a reported airstrike, December 28, 2016.
A man cries over the body of his 18-year-old son at a makeshift morgue in the rebel-held town of Douma near Damascus, following a reported airstrike, December 28, 2016.Credit: ABD DOUMANY/AFP

Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Thursday that Syrian opposition groups and the Syrian government had signed a number of documents including a ceasefire deal that would take effect at midnight.

Putin said that Russia and Turkey will guarantee the truce, which is set to begin at midnight. He said it will be followed by peace talks between Syrian President Bashar Assad's government and the opposition, which will be held in Kazakhstan, without specifying a date.

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President Vladimir Putin has ordered the Russian military to scale down its presence in Syria, where it has provided crucial support to Assad's forces. Putin didn't say how many troops and weapons will be withdrawn. He said Russia will continue "fighting international terrorism in Syria" and supporting Assad's military, adding that Russian military presence will be maintained at both an air base in Syria's coastal province of Latakia and the naval facility in the Syrian port of Tartus.

Syrian regime forces celebrate in front of heavily damaged and abandoned buildings in the former rebel-held Sukkari district in the northern city of Aleppo on December 23, 2016.Credit: GEORGE OURFALIAN/AFP

Welcoming the deal, Turkey said the Syrian government and the opposition have agreed to halt attacks, including aerial attacks, and not to expand territories under their control in a way that would be detrimental to each other.

>> IN PHOTOS: Syria's dreadful civil war >>

Turkey and Russia would closely follow the situation on the ground to ensure the cease-fire holds. A statement by Tukey's Foreign Ministry called on all sides wielding influence on the warring parties to provide the necessary support to halt hostilities.

Syria's military said it had agreed to the nationwide cease-fire. In a statement carried by state news agency SANA on Thursday, the military command "declares a comprehensive nationwide cessation of hostilities as of midnight." It also said the ceasefire deal excludes ISIS and the ex-Nusra Front and all groups linked to them, SANA reported.

Syria's State TV reported that the cease-fire paves the way for reactivating negotiations to end the conflict.It said the cease-fire comes after the "successes achieved by the armed forces," an apparent reference to the capture of rebel-held neighborhoods of Aleppo earlier this month.

A Free Syrian Army-affiliated rebel official said Thursday that rebels had agreed to the cease-fire. Zakaria Malahifji, head of the political office of rebel group Fastaqim, told Reuters the truce excludes areas under the control of Islamic State only.

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said the truce will include 62,000 opposition fighters across Syria, and that the Russian military has established a hotline with its Turkish counterpart to monitor compliance.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov says Egypt will be invited to join the process, and that Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Jordan could eventually join as well.

Lavrov says that that U.S. President-elect Donald Trump's administration will be welcome to join the Syrian peace process once he takes office.

Russia is a key ally of Assad, while Turkey is one of the main backers of the opposition. Several previous attempts to halt the civil war have failed.

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