Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and the opposition have accused each other of breaking a three-day ceasefire imposed to help end the five-year civil war.
“We will play our part to make the whole thing work,” insisted Assad. “The terrorists have breached the deal from the first day. We as the Syrian army are refraining from responding in order to give a chance to sustain the agreement. But in the end there are limits and it all depends on the other side.”
He added, “The most important thing for me, legally and constitutionally … (is) that you’re not allowed, as a citizen, to hold machine guns and hurt people or properties. This is the only thing that we ask. We don’t ask for anything. As I said, we give them full amnesty.”
At the same, the main opposition body claimed the Syrian army and its Russian allies have “launched dozens of attacks on strategic locations.” Asaad al-Zoubi, who leads the High Negotiations Committee’s delegation, said his group faces “a complete nullification,” and the forces attacked “rebel-held territory between the major cities of Homs and Hama.”
International observers in Syria confirmed violations of the agreement. This pushed the United Nations to delay the next round of Syrian peace talks by two days.
“We are delaying it to the afternoon of (March) 9th for logistical and technical reasons and also for the ceasefire to better settle down,” said U.N. Syria envoy Staffan de Mistura.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said countries are working “to track down alleged violations,” but no specific allegations have surfaced. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov agreed everyone must “implement the agreement.”
However, de Mistura does not want any Syrian discussion to concentrate on the alleged ceasefire violations. He said people on the ground want the leaders “to actually address the core of everything.”
Three days before the ceasefire, sources in Washington, D.C., told The Wall Street Journal that officials did not believe either side would honor the agreement. The publication reported that Defense Secretary Ash Carter, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford, and CIA Director John Brennan have all indicated they want to “inflict real pain on the Russians” should they break the ceasefire. They want to apply more “pressure on Moscow” to make sure the Russians keep their end of the bargain.
“We’ll judge Russia by its actions, not its words,” one senior administration official told The Wall Street Journal, adding:
To be clear: Our actions are not aimed at Russia. Our focus, however, does not change the fact that Russia, by increasingly involving itself in a vicious conflict on the side of a brutal dictator, will become enmeshed in a quagmire. Should it not change course, Russia’s fate will be self-inflicted.
The three men voiced these concerns during meetings with Secretary Kerry. The official told the Journal that “the agreement was partially intended to test whether Moscow can be trusted.” If it violates the agreement, the official said, “Plan-B thinking needs to occur.”