The stakes are enormous. More than 250,000 people have died in Syria in the past five years. Half the country has been uprooted and fled. And unless drastic changes happen soon, the death and destruction will continue unabated.
Midnight Friday could be a game-changing point in the Syrian civil war. That’s when a “cessation of hostilities” is set to go into effect.
Here are some questions and answers about the proposed peace plan:
What’s the difference between ‘cessation’ and ‘ceasefire’?
There are distinctions between a ceasefire, a cessation of hostilities and a truce. Unless you’re a peacekeeper or international lawyer, however, the differences aren’t that clear.
Colloquially, these terms are used interchangeably to describe an agreement to stop fighting. In international diplomacy, a ceasefire is more formal than a cessation of hostilities.
A cessation of hostilities implies a temporary halt in fighting, is usually nonbinding and commonly happens at the start of a peace process.
A ceasefire refers to a stoppage of violence that is tied to the framework of a peace process that is being negotiated.
The current deal in Syria is a cessation of hostilities.
Who does the cessation of hostilities apply to?
The text of the agreement calls for President Bashar al-Assad’s regime and the Syrian opposition groups to confirm by Friday at noon Damascus time that they intend to abide by the agreement.
There are other groups fighting inside Syria to whom the agreement does not apply. Terrorist groups, including ISIS and al-Nusra, are not included in the deal. Military operations against them will continue.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said “a significant benefit” of the plan to cease hostilities is that it might “speed up the destruction” of ISIS.
Furthermore, “other terrorist organizations designated by the U.N. Security Council” are excluded from the cessation of hostilities. This is a small but important detail because there are more than 160 armed factions on the battlefield, and which of these groups fall under the umbrella of the “opposition” and which don’t is open to interpretation.
It is unclear whether the United Nations has a set list of terrorist organizations, or whether the debate continues.
What is the agreement?
In short, the cessation of hostilities calls for the Syrian regime and the opposition fighters to halt attacks and implement a U.N. “road map” for peace.
Under the terms of the agreement, Russia (whose warplanes have also targeted Syrian opposition groups) will halt those airstrikes.
Both sides agree to allow humanitarian agencies access to the territories they hold, and to refrain from taking territory held by the other side.
The “road map” is U.N. Security Council Resolution 2254, which the council adopted unanimously in December.
What will the peace process look like?
A key part of the agreement is full implementation of U.N. Security Council Resolution 2254, “including the readiness to participate in the U.N.-facilitated political negotiation process,” the document states.
This “road map” calls for a peace process where “the Syrian people will decide the future of Syria.”
The resolution calls for the government and the opposition to start formal negotiations on a political transition aimed at establishing a “a credible, inclusive and nonsectarian governance” in Syria.
The Security Council resolution foresees that a formal ceasefire, a new constitution and transparent elections will be among the results of the peace negotiations.