A ceasefire brokered by Russia and Turkey went into effect in war-ravaged Syria at midnight, a potential breakthrough in the six years of fighting that have left more than a quarter-million people dead and triggered a refugee crisis across Europe. If it holds, the truce between the Syrian government and mainstream rebel forces will be followed by peace talks next month in Kazakhstan, Russian President Vladimir Putin said in announcing the agreement. He described it, however, as "quite fragile" and requiring "special attention and patience," per the AP. The first half-hour of the cease-fire was one of "comprehensive calm" after government bombings in Aleppo and Damascus suburbs, said the head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. The New York Times reports minor violations, but none yet big enough to threaten the pact.
Several previous ceasefires in the Syrian civil war all collapsed, some of them in a matter of days. And this latest agreement, like previous ones, does not include extremist factions such as the Islamic State and al-Qaeda's branch in Syria. Still, the deal raises hopes for a political settlement to the ruinous war, in part because the landscape has significantly shifted recently. For one thing, the tide has turned in Syrian President Bashar Assad's favor militarily over the past year, with the government retaking the city of Aleppo just days ago. Also, Turkey, which has been supporting the rebels, appears more willing to strike a bargain with Russia if it means protecting its borders. Syria's foreign minister notes there is a "real chance" for a political settlement, if Assad is allowed to stay in power.