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Islamic State could take advantage of Syria ceasefire, says Christian charity

Fri 19 Feb 2016
By Aaron James

A Christian advocacy charity has expressed concerns that Islamic State and other extremists could exploit a partial ceasefire between government forces and moderate opposition groups.

John Newton from Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) was speaking to Premier after a "cessation of hostilities" between the soldiers loyal to the Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and militia such as the Free Syrian Army dropped their weapons as part of ongoing peace efforts.

Fighting against jihadist extremists such as Islamic State and the al-Nusra Front continues.

Mr Newton also said whilethe Syrian War was still far from a peaceful solution, a partial ceasefire represented significant progress.

He also said he was praying that there would be more dialogue between Bashar al-Assad's government and the moderate opposition, rather than fighting.

The partial ceasefire was agreed in Germany last week by a special 17-state team dedicated to ending hostilities in the country, called the International Support Syria Group.

Members of the ISSG:

China

Egypt

Germany

France

Iran

Iraq

Italy

Jordan

Lebanon

Oman

Russia

Qatar

Saudi Arabia

United Arab Emirates

United Kingdom

United States

Arab League

European Union

United Nations

The meeting in Munich, which also resolved to increased aid deliveries, came during a time of heightened conflict in the north of Syria.

Russia was providing bombing support to President Bashar al-Assad's ground troops, who were encircling the major city of Aleppo - a city taken by rebels.

There has been concerns from Russia that the Syrian President would not honour the ceasefire, after he made remarks on state television saying he would not stop fighting until all rebels were defeated.

John Newton, from Aid to the Church in Need, was speaking to the Bishop of Aleppo, Georges Abou Khazen, yesterday.

He told Premier's News Hour: "He [Bishops Georges] thinks that one of the big problems with the ceasefire will be that there are many, many groups affiliated to al-Qaeda, ISIS, and the recent bombardment they've been suffering [in Aleppo] over the last couple of weeks, he's quite convinced is coming from the extremist elements which have occupied the northern quarters of the city.

"His fear is that even if the government forces and the moderate opposition do observe the ceasefire, there's still these extremist groups who've been the source of so many problems in the city will continue fighting - will continue the bombardment.

"If we see extremist groups not observing it, and the chances are that they won't, we could well see that there will be a continued bombardment of places like the quarters of Aleppo which have seen the problems."

US and Russian military officials held talks today at the United Nations headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland, however a scheduled bigger meeting including other officials and diplomats was cancelled without reason given.

The meeting between US and Russia, as well as the cancelled wider meeting, aimed to bridge the gap between the aims of America and Russia when it comes to conflict resolution in Syria and the place of President Assad and moderate opposition.

Listen to Premier's Alex Williams speaking to John Newton on the News Hour:


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