News World President Assad offers amnesty to Syrian rebels

President Assad offers amnesty to Syrian rebels

Fighting has mostly stopped on the frontlines of Syria's civil war.
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Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has described the cessation of hostilities in force since Saturday as a “glimmer of hope” while offering rebel forces “full amnesty” if they hand over their weapons.

Speaking in an interview with Germany’s ARD network, Mr Assad also accused the opposition of violating the agreement intended to halt nearly five years of fighting.

The opposition has in turn accused the Syrian government of breaching the fragile truce by repeatedly attacking its positions, which the government denies.

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International observers have acknowledged violations of the agreement while stressing that the level of violence has decreased considerably.

“We will play our part to make the whole thing work,” Mr Assad said.

“Just … give up your armament, whether you want to join the political process or [are] not interested about the political process, you don’t have any political agenda, it doesn’t matter.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad described the cessation of hostilities as a "glimmer of hope".
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad described the cessation of hostilities as a “glimmer of hope”. Photo: Getty

“The most important thing for me, legally and constitutionally … [is] that you’re not allowed, as a citizen, to hold machine guns and hurt people or properties.

“This is the only thing that we ask. We don’t ask for anything. As I said, we give them full amnesty.”

The president said the Syrian army had not reacted to truce violations in order to give the agreement a chance.

“The terrorists have breached the deal from the first day,” Mr Assad said.

“We as the Syrian Army are refraining from responding in order to give a chance to sustain the agreement.

“But in the end there are limits and it all depends on the other side.”

He also said people in Syria were suffering from a “humanitarian disaster”.

The war has killed at least 250,000 people and forced millions to flee their homes.

The United Nations (UN) hopes the cessation of hostilities will allow it to deliver aid to more than 150,000 people in besieged areas of Syria.

Mr Assad denied that his troops were cutting off food and medical supplies from rebel-held cities.

“How could we prevent them from having food while we cannot prevent them from having armaments?” he argued.

UN peace talks to restart on March 9

The cessation of hostilities agreement, drawn up by the United States and Russia, has also been seen by the UN as an opportunity to restart peace talks, which collapsed before they had even started a month ago in Geneva.

“We are delaying it to the afternoon of March 9 for logistical and technical reasons and also for the ceasefire to better settle down,” UN Syria envoy Staffan de Mistura said on Tuesday.

The talks had previously been pencilled in for March 7.

Riad Nassan Agha, a member of the opposition High Negotiations Committee, said the opposition would study the call for talks based on developments on the ground, adding that the opposition had only heard of the March 9 date in the media.

He said he did not see “good implementation” of humanitarian clauses in a UN Security Council resolution which the opposition has demanded be carried out for Syria peace talks to begin.

He added that Mr Mistura appeared to be “in a hurry”.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov have said there was an urgent need for the warring parties to return to the negotiating table while the ceasefire is in place.

US Secretary of State John Kerry said on Monday that while efforts were being made to track down alleged violations of the cessation of hostilities, there was currently no evidence to suggest they would destabilise the fragile peace.

The agreement does not include Islamic State (IS) militants and the Nusra Front, and Mr Assad and his Russian backers have made clear they intend to keep attacking the jihadist groups.

The Saudi-backed “moderate” opposition says that because some of their fighters are located in areas alongside Nusra, they fear being targeted too.

The Russian Defence Ministry said it was refraining from striking areas in Syria where the “moderate opposition” was respecting the ceasefire agreement, Interfax news agency reported.

A total of 15 ceasefire violations have been registered in Syria in the past 24 hours, Interfax quoted the Russian military as saying.

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