The United States and Russia agreed on Monday on a new ceasefire for Syria that will take effect Saturday, US officials said, even as major questions over enforcing and responding to violations of the truce were left unresolved.
Where in Syria the fighting must stop and where counterterrorism operations can continue also must be addressed.
The new timeline for the hoped-for breakthrough comes after the two former Cold War foes, which are backing opposing sides in Syria's civil war, agreed on terms for the "cessation of hostilities" between Bashar Assad regime and armed opposition groups, the officials told the AP. Those sides must accept the deal by Friday.
The truce will not cover Daesh, the Al Qaeda-linked Nusra Front and any other militias designated as terrorist organisations by the UN Security Council. Both the US and Russia are still targeting those groups with airstrikes. An announcement is expected after presidents Barack Obama and Vladimir Putin speak by telephone Monday, according to the officials, who weren't authorised to speak publicly on the matter ahead of time and demanded anonymity.
The plan largely follows the blueprint set by Washington, Moscow and 15 other countries at a conference in Munich, Germany earlier this month. That agreement called for a truce by February 19, a deadline that was missed.
Beyond the new ceasefire date, Monday's agreement sets up a "communications hotline" and, if needed, a working group to promote and monitor the truce. Violations are to be addressed by the working group with an eye toward restoring compliance and cooling tensions. The deal also calls for "non-forcible means" to be exhausted before other means are pursued for punishing transgressors.
Any party can report violations to the working group being co-chaired by the US and Russia.
The two countries also will share "pertinent information" about territory held by rebel groups accepting the truce.
The timing of the ceasefire is only days ahead of Moscow's proposal earlier this month for it to start on March 1.
UN welcomes cessation of hostilities pact in Syria as ‘signal of hope’
United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon welcomed the agreement announced on Monday by United States Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, as co-chairs of the International Syria Support Group (ISSG) Ceasefire Taskforce, on the terms of a nationwide cessation of hostilities in Syria scheduled to come into effect on Saturday.
Noting the "lengthy and detailed discussions" that preceded the announcement, Ban, in a statement carried by the UN News Centre, said he believes the agreement, if respected, would constitute a significant step forward in the implementation of Security Council resolution 2254 of 2015, which gave the UN an enhanced role in shepherding the opposing sides to talks for a political transition, endorsing a timetable for a ceasefire, a new constitution and elections.
"It demonstrates the commitment of the ISSG to exert influence on the warring parties to bring about an immediate reduction in violence as a first step towards a more durable ceasefire," he Ban stressed, adding that the agreement "further contributes to creating an environment conducive for the resumption of political negotiations."
"Above all, it is a long-awaited signal of hope to the Syrian people that after five years of conflict there may be an end to their suffering in sight," Ban said.