Russia and the United States have agreed to try to implement a nationwide cease-fire in Syria in one week, while working harder to get humanitarian aid to civilians caught in the conflict there.
But with the Russian-backed troops of Syrian leader Bashar Assad slowly squeezing the rebel stronghold of Aleppo, and opposition groups increasingly wary of both Moscow and Washington, a great deal remains uncertain.
The cease-fire was agreed to after intense, lengthy discussions by Secretary of State John Kerry, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and other world leaders at a Thursday gathering in Munich. The agreement still needs to be confirmed by the Syrian government and the opposition, a process that could easily falter considering the array of opposition groups involved and Assad's recent gains on the battlefield.
According to a joint statement issued by the International Syria Support Group (ISSG) and others, the cease-fire will apply to all groups unless they are fighting the Islamic State, the al Qaeda affiliated Jabhat al-Nusra, or other groups designated by the United Nations as terrorist organizations. (U.S. Special Forces are fighting the Islamic State in Syria as well as in Iraq.)
The ISSG will establish a task force to implement the cease-fire under U.N. auspices and co-chaired by Russia and the United States, the statement said. The parties involved also agreed to immediately start expanding access to humanitarian aid on the ground, where some Syrians are facing starvation.
"We believe we have made progress on both the humanitarian front and the cessation of hostilities front, and these two fronts, this progress, has the potential -- fully implemented, fully followed through on -- to be able to change the daily lives of the Syrian people," Kerry said at a very early Friday morning press conference in the German city.
If the cease-fire takes effect, it could boost to peace talks set for Feb. 25 and aimed at bringing an end to the war in Syria, where at least 250,000 people have died in nearly five years. The last round of talks, held earlier this month, fell apart as Assad's forces, backed by Russian airpower, began encircling Aleppo, a stronghold of moderate opposition groups trying to oust Assad from power.
Russia, which has long stood by the Syrian government of Assad, one of its few allies in the Middle East, has cast the opposition groups being bombed as terrorists. America's insistence on sticking to diplomacy has frustrated Syrian opposition leaders who say the U.S. is losing leverage with Moscow and by extension hurting innocent Syrians.