Russia and the United States have reached an agreement on a ceasefire in Syria as part of a plan to find a political solution to the years-long crisis in the Arab country.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and US Secretary of State John Kerry announced the agreement during a joint press conference in the early hours of Saturday after some 13 hours of marathon talks on the Syrian crisis in Geneva, Switzerland.
“Today, the United States and Russia are announcing a plan which we hope will reduce violence, ease suffering and resume movement towards a negotiated peace and a political transition in Syria,” Kerry said.
He also said the US believed that Moscow had the capability to urge the Syrian government to “stop this conflict and to come to the table and make peace.”
Kerry added that the truce would be enforced on Monday, the first day of the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha (the Feast of Sacrifice), which marks the culmination of the annual Hajj pilgrimage.
The US secretary of state also said if the upcoming truce lasted for a week, Washington would commence military cooperation with Russian forces to target the Takfiri terrorist groups of Daesh and Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, al-Qaeda's Syrian branch formerly known as al-Nusra Front.
Joint airstrikes in Syria
Lavrov, for his part, also said that the two countries had agreed to coordinate airstrikes against the terror groups in Syria “provided there is a sustained period of reduced violence.”
He added that after the seven-day truce, Moscow and Washington would establish a Joint Implementation Center, in which the military and the representatives of the two countries’ intelligence would "handle practical issues, separating terrorists and the opposition."
"We will jointly agree on strikes against terrorists to be carried out by the Russian and American air forces. We have agreed on the zones in which these strikes will be carried out," the Russian foreign minister stated.
“Despite the mistrust and attempt to disrupt what we have agreed upon, we managed to work out a package of documents; there are five of them. It allows us to set an effective coordination in the fight against terrorism, to expand the humanitarian access to distressed population, first and foremost in Aleppo,” Lavrov further said.
The senior Russian diplomat also noted that Moscow had informed the Syrian government about the arrangements and that it was ready to fulfill them.
Despite the agreement, it still remains unknown whether Russia and the US have settled their differences over the future of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Washington insists that Assad must step down before any peace process can yield results, but Russia opposes the idea, arguing that the Syrian president is pivotal to his country's fight against terrorists.
Syria has been gripped by foreign-backed militancy since March 2011. UN Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura estimates that over 400,000 people have been killed in the conflict.
In 2014, the UN said it would no more update its official death toll for Syria because it could not verify the figures that it received from various sources.