UPDATE 1200 GMT: Commenting on the US-Russia deal and implicitly displaying his hope that the agreement will help sweep away the Trump-Russia investigation, Donald Trump has tweeted:
…We negotiated a ceasefire in parts of Syria which will save lives. Now it is time to move forward in working constructively with Russia!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 9, 2017
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has welcomed the arrangement for “a genuine cease-fire” in southwest Syria provided it does not enable a military presence for Iranian-backed forces along Israel’s border.
Israel has carried out a series of strikes, including three on regime positions in the past month, to warn against any hostile presence near the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights.
Netanyahu said that he conveyed concerns last week to both Putin and US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, and that both said they understand Israel’s position and took it into account.
ORIGINAL ENTRY: Both the Assad regime and Syria’s opposition were silent on Saturday over the first US-Russia “de-escalation” deal, proposing a ceasefire in the southwest of the country from noon local time on Sunday.
Friday’s agreement was announced after a meeting between Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin at the G20 summit in Germany. US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson hailed the “first indication of the US and Russia being able to work together in Syria” and looked to arrangements “regarding other areas”, but he was vague on the implementation of the deal, saying it was up to militaries on the ground.
On Saturday, the Assad regime’s media focused instead on a Foreign Ministry rejection of Israel’s plan to hold local elections in 2018 in the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, near the proposed de-escalation zone.
Amid clashes between the regime and rebels in Quneitra Province, Israel has carried out three strikes on regime positions in recent weeks.
The UN deputy envoy for Syria, Ramzy Ezzeldin Ramzy, met regime officials on Saturday about upcoming political talks in Geneva. He said afterwards that the US-Russian proposal is a “step in the right direction. All of this leads to supporting the political process.”
The Syrian opposition has not reacted officially. However, it has been sceptical about both the Geneva talks and those in the Kazakh capital Astana since January, maintaining that Russia cannot be relied upon to rein in the regime and noting the Assad regime has continued attacks despite Moscow’s declaration of four de-escalation zones in early May.
Rebels said on Friday that they had “great concern over the secret meetings between Russia and Jordan and America to conclude an individual deal for southern Syria in isolation from the north”.
Russia Returns to “Khan Sheikhoun Sarin Attack was Staged”
Russia’s Foreign Ministry has returned to its diversionary claim that the Assad regime’s April 4 sarin attack on Khan Sheikhoun in northwest Syria never occurred.
Mikhail Ulyanov, the Foreign Ministry’s director for non-proliferation and arms control, tried to dismiss the confirmation of a sarin assault by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons. He displayed several videos and photos out of context and then asserted, “We should not renounce the theory that the incident was staged.”
Russia has previously tried the line, echoing Bashar al-Assad, that the attack — carried out by a regime Su-22 jet dropping a munition with “sarin or sarin-like substance” — was fabricated. But Moscow has also said at times that rebels carried out the attack or that a Su-22 jet hit a rebel warehouse filled with chemical stocks.