Assad vows to retake whole of Syria hours before start of ceasefire

A defiant President Bashar al-Assad on Monday vowed to retake the whole of Syria, hours before a ceasefire brokered by the US and Russia was due to take hold.

Assad said “the Syrian state is determined to recover every area from the terrorists,” state media reported after the president attended Eid al-Adha holiday prayers in Daraya, a former rebel stronghold recently surrendered to the government.

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Syrian government forces and insurgent rebels clashed in several areas on Sunday, according to Reuters.

At least 91 people were killed during attacks on rebel-held areas on Saturday and Sunday. Rebels were said to attack government-held areas, primarily with mortars.

Free Syrian Army groups told the United States on Sunday that they would “cooperate positively” with the ceasefire but expressed concern about the terms of the truce.

The ceasefire will not include jihadist groups ISIS and Jabhat al-Nusra.

Rebel groups criticized the exclusion of the latter group in a letter to the US, arguing that it would allow Russia to bomb other rebel groups while claiming to target only those groups.

In August, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitor said Russian and Syrian jets had pounded rebel positions in and around second city Aleppo, killing at least 20 people, despite a pledge by Russia to observe a three-hour daily ceasefire in Aleppo to allow for humanitarian aid deliveries.

The landmark deal, proposed by the United States and Russia after marathon talks in Geneva on Friday, could also lead to the first joint military operations by Moscow and Washington against jihadists.

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Both Kerry and Lavrov said the complex plan is the best chance to end the five-year war that has killed 290,000 people and seen millions flee to neighboring countries.

Under the deal, fighting would halt across the country at sundown on Monday and Syria’s air force would stop attacking rebel-held areas.

US special envoy to the Syrian crisis Michael Ratney said in a letter that the initial truce would last 48 hours and could then be renewed.

UN Syria envoy Staffan de Mistura said that the deal provided a “window of opportunity” and that he would begin consultations on relaunching peace talks.

But a peace deal faces major obstacles.

The question of Assad’s fate remains a key sticking point: the Syrian opposition repeated its demand last week that he leave power, but Russia continues to back him.