US, Russia reach deal to extend Syrian ceasefire

US, Russia reach deal to extend Syrian ceasefire
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The United States and Russia have reached a deal to extend a fragile ceasefire in Syria to the besieged city of Aleppo.

The agreement, which was finalized late on Tuesday and went into effect at 12:01 a.m. on Wednesday morning, comes after days of frantic negotiations between the two countries, which have led talks to bring Syria's five-year civil war to a close.  

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The State Department on Wednesday already reported “an overall decrease in violence” in and around Aleppo in the hours since the agreement took effect. Still, “there have been reports of continued fighting in some locations,” spokesman Mark Toner cautioned.

A tenuous peace agreement reached in February has helped to stem some violence throughout the country but has yet to settle the broader questions behind the ongoing conflict, such as the fate of President Bashar Assad.

Violence had ticked up dramatically in Aleppo in recent days, and multiple hospitals and medical centers were shelled by militants on both sides. Aleppo, once Syria’s largest city, was not included in narrower peace agreements covering other parts of the country that had been put into place in recent days.  

Russia, an ally of Assad, will be charged with ensuring that his government abides by the terms of the ceasefire, Toner said, while the U.S. does its part with rebel groups trying to unseat him.

“It is critical that Russia redouble its efforts to influence the regime to abide fully by the cessation,” the State Department spokesman said in a statement announcing the ceasefire.

Wednesday’s announcement does little to settle the underlying conflict in Syria, where territory has been carved up between Assad, rebel groups and Islamic extremists such as the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. The Obama administration has long insisted that Assad needs to leave power as part of any broader solution to the conflict, but he has resisted the call and been buoyed in recent months by Russian military support.

“Our objective remains, and has always been, a single nationwide cessation of hostilities covering all of Syria — not a series of local truces,” Toner said in his statement.