Syria crisis: Assad regime wants ceasefire after war reaches ‘stalemate’

Deputy Prime Minister says there is a 'zero balance of forces' between the state and the rebels - as local truce between in-fighting opposition groups makes it starkly clear how difficult united peace talks will be

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The Independent Online

The Syrian government does not believe that either side can win or lose the country’s civil war, and will propose a ceasefire monitored by international troops when peace talks can be convened in Geneva.

The Deputy Prime Minister of the Assad regime said that after the war has raged for two years, claiming more than 100,000 lives, neither the state’s forces nor the rebels have the military strength to overwhelm the other side.

Speaking in an hour-long interview with the Guardian newspaper, Qadri Jamil said that if the US and Russia could agree on a way of getting the rebels to attend peace negotiations, the regime would call for: “An end to external intervention, a ceasefire and the launching of a peaceful political process in a way that the Syrian people can enjoy self-determination without outside intervention and in a democratic way.”

Mr Jamil said: “Neither the armed opposition nor the regime is capable of defeating the other side. This zero balance of forces will not change for a while.”

The Deputy Prime Minister insisted that he spoke for the whole of Bashar al-Assad’s government, and in his capacity as minister for the economy said that the war had cost Syria about $100 billion (£62 billion), the equivalent of two years of normal production.

The comments came as disparate rebels groups fighting amongst themselves over the northern town of Azaz agreed a truce.

On Wednesday the Western-back Free Syrian Army lost control of the town, not far from Aleppo, to the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria group (Isis), which has links to al-Qaeda.

Today it was reported by the BBC that the conflict, which had led to fears of a war within a war, had been halted, and the parties involved agreed to exchange prisoners and return seized property.

The significance of the localised ceasefire to the wider national, even international context is unclear, but it indicates the severity of the problem in getting a united opposition front involved in any over-arching peace talks.

Meanwhile, President Assad has warned that while Syria will comply with a US-Russian deal for the destruction of the country’s chemical weapons, it would be a long, complex and expensive process.

And Vladimir Putin said yesterday that he could not be “100 per cent certain” that the plan would be carried out successfully.

“But everything we have seen so far in recent days gives us confidence that this will happen,” he said, adding: “I hope so.”

Mr Jamil reiterated his president’s denial that the regime was responsible for the Damascus chemical weapons attack on 21 August which the US says killed 1,429 people.