Syrian Army, Opposition Confirm Nationwide Truce

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF REUTERS NEWS AGENCY AND THE HINDUSTAN TIMES NEWSPAPER)

Syria army, opposition confirm nationwide truce

WORLD Updated: Dec 29, 2016 21:19 IST

AFP
AFP
AFP, Damascus

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A boy walks his bike near stacked sandbags in al-Rai town, northern Aleppo province, Syria. (Reuters)

Syria’s army said Thursday it would halt all military operations from midnight under a truce deal brokered by Russia and Turkey and supported by a leading Syrian opposition body.The agreement was announced earlier by Russian President Vladimir Putin who said the Syrian regime and “main forces of the armed opposition” had signed on.“The general command of the armed forces announces a complete halt to all hostilities on Syrian territory from the zero hour of December 30th,” Syria’s army said in a statement carried on state television.

It said that the ceasefire excluded the Islamic State group and the former Al-Qaeda affiliate previously known as Al-Nusra Front, now rebranded the Fateh al-Sham Front.

The National Coalition, a leading Syrian political opposition group based in Turkey, confirmed its backing for the truce.

“The National Coalition expresses support for the agreement and urges all parties to abide by it,” spokesman Ahmed Ramadan told AFP.

He said key rebel groups including the powerful Ahrar al-Sham and Army of Islam factions had signed the ceasefire deal, though there was no immediate confirmation from rebel representatives.

“The agreement includes a ceasefire in all areas held by the moderate opposition, or by the moderate opposition and elements from Fateh al-Sham, such as Idlib province,” he told AFP.

Idlib, in northwest Syria, is controlled by an alliance of rebel groups led by Fateh al-Sham.

Read| Turkey, Russia to implement Syria ceasefire before New Year: Turkish minister

The group, in its previous incarnation as Al-Nusra, was designated a “terrorist” organisation by countries including the United States, as well as the United Nations.

The ceasefire agreement follows the recapture by Syria’s government of the country’s second city Aleppo from rebels, in the worst blow to opposition forces since the war began.

It will be the first nationwide halt in fighting since a week-long truce from September 12-19 that collapsed after several incidents of violence.

A previous truce was implemented in February. Both of those deals were organised by Russia and the United States.

The latest agreement is the first nationwide ceasefire brokered with the involvement of Turkey, a backer of the Syrian opposition.

Russia is a key supporter of Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad and began a military intervention in support of his government in September 2015.

Despite backing opposing sides in the conflict, and a souring of relations after Turkey shot down a Russian warplane last year, Ankara and Moscow have worked increasingly closely on Syria.

They jointly brokered a ceasefire for Aleppo this month that allowed the last remaining rebels and civilians in the city’s east to leave to opposition territory elsewhere.

More than 310,000 people have been killed in Syria since the conflict began in March 2011 with protests against Assad’s government.

Successive bids to reach a peace deal to end the conflict have failed, but Moscow has said it is planning to convene new negotiations in Kazakhstan.

And the army statement said the ceasefire was intended to “create conditions to support the political track” in resolving the conflict.

China Not Happy With Donald Trump For His Phone Call To Taiwan’s President

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE HUFFINGTON POST)

Donald Trump Speaks To Taiwan’s President, Reversing Decades Of U.S. Policy

China, the U.S. and most of the international community consider Taiwan to be a Chinese territory, not an independent nation.

12/02/2016 06:02 pm ET

President-elect Donald Trump spoke by phone Friday with Tsai Ying-wen, the president of Taiwan. The call was the first in more than 30 years between an American president-elect and a leader of the semi-autonomous island.

According to a readout of the call from the Trump transition team, Tsai congratulated Trump on his victory, and the two discussed “the close economic, political, and security ties exists between Taiwan and the United States.”

But the Trump team’s description of the call belies the fact that the conversation has the potential to upset three decades of relations between the United States and its most important global trading partner.

China, the United States and most of the international community consider Taiwan to be a Chinese territory. But Taiwan, with its own elected government, constitution and military, considers itself an independent nation.

In recognition of China’s claim to sovereignty over Taiwan, the U.S. cut diplomatic relations with Taiwan in 1979. Trump’s call will likely enrage Beijing, and stands to damage U.S. relations with Chine before Trump even takes office.

“The Chinese leadership will see this as a highly provocative action, of historic proportions,”  Evan Medeiros, a former Asia director at the White House national security council, told the Financial Times, which first reported the call Friday afternoon.

“Regardless if it was deliberate or accidental, this phone call will fundamentally change China’s perceptions of Trump’s strategic intentions for the negative. With this kind of move, Trump is setting a foundation of enduring mistrust and strategic competition for US-China relations,” Medeiros said.

The call with Tsai is the latest in a string of conversations between Trump and foreign leaders that have left foreign policy experts and career diplomats shocked and concerned.

Earlier this week, Trump spoke with Pakistani president Nawaz Sharif and said he looked forward to visiting the country as president ― something President Barack Obama has deliberately avoided doing because of the complex, and sometimes duplicitous, security and intelligence relationship between the two countries. Trump also spoke with President Nursultan Nazarbayev of Kazakhstan, a despot and international pariah who has ruled the former Soviet republic since 1989.

On Friday, Trump also spoke to Rodrigo Duterte, the newly elected president of the Philippines. Since taking office, Duterte has encouraged the extra-judicial murder of hundreds of people accused of dealing drugs, and he has suggested that journalists deserve to be assassinated.

In response to the alarm raised by Trump’s phone calls, White House press secretary Josh Earnest on Thursday delicately urged Trump to seek out advice from career diplomats at the State Department. “President Obama benefited enormously from the advice and expertise that’s been shared by those who serve at the State Department,” he told reporters at the daily press briefing.

“I’m confident that as President-elect Trump takes office, those same State Department employees will stand ready to offer him advice as he conducts the business of the United States overseas. Hopefully he’ll take it.”

Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy (Conn.) was more direct with his criticism. “What has happened in the last 48 hours is not a shift. These are major pivots in foreign policy w/out any plan. That’s how wars start,” Murphy tweeted on Friday. “And if they aren’t pivots – just radical temporary deviations – allies will walk if they have no clue what we stand for. Just as bad. It’s probably time we get a Secretary of State nominee on board. Preferably w experience. Like, really really soon.”