Russia gets UN backing for Syria truce and Kazakhstan talks
(AFP) - A ceasefire held across most of Syria on Saturday as Russia and Turkey secured unanimous passage of a UN resolution backing their efforts to "jumpstart" talks aimed at ending the nearly six-year conflict.
The Security Council resolution aims to pave the way for talks next month in Kazakhstan's capital Astana, under the aegis of Russia and Iran -- both Syrian government supporters -- and of rebel backer Turkey.
Turkey and Russia say the talks will supplement, not replace, UN-backed peace efforts, including negotiations set to resume February 8 in Geneva.
The text of the UN measure "welcomes and supports the efforts by Russia and Turkey to end violence in Syria and jumpstart a political process". It hails the Astana talks as "an important step". The measure also calls for the "rapid, safe and unhindered" delivery of humanitarian aid in Syria.
Important step for international community
Russia and Turkey brokered the current ceasefire and, while backing opposing forces in the conflict, have been working increasingly closely on Syria, including to allow evacuations from the besieged city of Aleppo.
Russia's UN ambassador Vitaly Churkin had earlier voiced hope the Security Council would endorse the planned talks in Kazakhstan and back the resolution unanimously. But several council members had demanded clarifications over the reach of the resolution, what it would mean for the UN talks, how it might affect rebels recently ousted from Aleppo, and what it would mean for humanitarian aid.
The French foreign ministry expressed hope the ceasefire would be "fully respected," calling for a prompt resumption of political negotiations brokered by the UN. "The unanimous adoption of Resolution 2336 demonstrates how important implementing a ceasefire in Syria truly is for the international community," the statement added.
The Syrian conflict has occasionally spilled over into neighbouring Turkey, with several attacks blamed on Islamic State jihadists or Kurdish militants. In the latest bloodshed, at least 39 people were killed and 40 wounded when gunmen reportedly dressed as Santa stormed an Istanbul nightclub where party goers were celebrating the New Year.
Iran and Syrian regime don't want to be pushed aside
The government in Damascus called the ceasefire a "real opportunity" to find a political solution to a war that has claimed more than 310,000 lives and displaced millions since it began in March 2011 with protests against the regime of President Bashar al-Assad.
Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem held talks in key ally Iran with President Hassan Rouhani and the Supreme National Security Council secretary Ali Shamkhani. Rouhani said "vigilance" was needed to ensure the rebels did not reorganise.
The official IRNA news agency also quoted Shamkhani as warning that any political solution to the Syrian conflict must not lead to "the weakening" of the Damascus government.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has said he would reduce Moscow's military contingent in Syria, which has been fighting to bolster the government since last year. But he added Russia would continue to fight "terrorism" and maintain its support for Assad's government.