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World Powers Agree to Syria Ceasefire, Kerry Says

The pact on a nationwide cessation of hostilities and increased humanitarian aid comes after marathon talks that included Russia and other nations.
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Major world powers have reached an agreement on a nationwide "cessation of hostilities" in Syria and diplomatic talks aimed at ending the years-long conflict there.

The deal announced in Munich in the early morning on Friday, local time, follows marathon talks with Russia and more than a dozen other countries. It also calls for the swift expansion of humanitarian aid and the resumption of peace talks in Geneva as soon as possible.

The ceasefire does not apply to military force against terror groups like ISIS or al-Nusra Front. The U.S. and Russia are among the countries conducting air campaigns against ISIS in Syria.

"What we have here is on paper, but what we need to see is actions on the ground,” U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said in announcing the agreement.

The agreement calls for the immediate acceleration and expansion of humanitarian aid to besieged parts of the country — like the city of Madaya, whose residents have been starving to death.

"Humanitarian access to these most urgent areas will be a first step toward full, sustained, and unimpeded access throughout the country," the International Syria Support Group said in a statement.

Related: Starving Syrian Children Living on Lies — And Little Else

The agreement calls for a cessation of hostilities between forces fighting against the Bashar al-Assad regime as well as those fighting in support of the government.

The agreement calls for the ceasefire to commence in one week, after confirmation by the Syrian government and the opposition.

Kerry said the ceasefire would be a crucial pause allowing parties to come together in negotiations, but would not by itself end the conflict.

"Ultimately, the end of this conflict will only come when the parties agree on a plan for a political transition," Kerry said. "We have no illusions about how difficult that is," Kerry said.

A spokesman for the Syrian opposition coalition, the High Negotiations Committee, welcomed the proposed ceasefire.

"It must be for all Syrians, we must see action on the ground," Salem al-Meslet said in Munich. "If we see action and implementation, we will see you very soon in Geneva."

The U.S. and Russia would lead a task force which will determine a "long-term comprehensive and durable cessation of violence, of hostilities,” and the international group would immediately use its influence to decrease fighting, Kerry said.

Related: 'Death Everywhere' in Aleppo as U.N. Sounds Alarm

Russia has been conducting air strikes against what it says are ISIS targets, but which observers have claimed have targeted rebels opposing the Assad government. Russia has denied the claims, and said it is fighting ISIS.

U.K. Foreign Minister Philip Hammond said Russia must halt air strikes against the opposition if a cease-fire is to be successful.

"Russia, in particular, claims to be attacking terrorist groups and yet consistently bombs non-extremist groups including civilians," Hammond said in a statement. "If this agreement is to work, this bombing will have to stop: no cessation of hostilities will last if moderate opposition groups continue to be targeted."

Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister, acknowledged Friday there have been disagreements over targets.

"As you probably know, during all these months we have had quite an emotional discussion on who is targeting the right targets, who is striking at the right targets, who is striking at the wrong targets," Lavrov said.

"Now, having this agreement, the task force will determine areas taken by Da'esh and al-Nusra," Lavrov said, using another name by which ISIS is sometimes called.

The death toll in the five-year conflict is estimated at more than 250,000, and more than 4.5 million have fled the country, according to the United Nations.