NEW YORK, Dec. 18 (UPI) -- The 15-member United Nations Security Council on Friday unanimously approved a draft resolution aimed at ending the Syrian Civil War -- now in its fourth year -- through a ceasefire and peace talks between warring factions that could start in just 14 days.
The council's full vote on Friday afternoon followed approval by the panel's five permanent members -- the United States, Russia, France, Britain and China -- two hours earlier.
The proposal seeks to join the Syrian government, led by U.S. foe Bashar Hafez al-Assad, and rebel forces for peace talks starting Jan. 1, 2016. It also calls for a ceasefire between Syrian forces and rebel groups.
"This council is sending a clear message to all concerned that the time is now to stop the killing in Syria," U.S. Secretary of State John F. Kerry said Friday. "This is the first time we have been able to come together at the United Nations, in the Security Council, to embrace a road forward."
"Let us proceed with confidence from here, and a determination to end this war, eliminate the terrorist threat, and enable the people of Syria to return safely to their homes" he added.
Negotiators have been meeting in New York this week to try to pass a plan to stop the fighting in Syria, where civil war has devastated the west Asian nation for nearly five years under Assad's rule. Adding to the instability, militants have also aggressively stepped up terror attacks in the country over the last two years.
To date, more than a quarter million people have so far died and more than 12 million displaced in the conflicts.
The Syrian National Coalition, the main political opponent to Assad, reportedly said the Jan. 1 start date is "unrealistic" and mandated that the cessation of Russian airstrikes also be part of the agreement.
In recent years, the Syrian conflict has further strained diplomatic relations between the United States and Russia -- with Moscow backing Assad and Washington supporting the rebels. At the U.N. level, though, both powers agreed last month to support a resolution to expand the fight against militants -- including those who've gained strongholds and launched waves of attacks in Syria.
Friday's resolution marks the first time the two nations have agreed on any type of a political peace plan to end the Syrian Civil War. Previously, Moscow has insisted that any deal allow Assad to remain in power -- a provision deemed unacceptable by Washington.
Assad's hold on power in Damascus is only partially addressed by Friday's proposal, which requires new government elections to be held no later than June 2017. The text of the resolution, however, does not specifically state whether Assad, who has never been elected president by his constituents, will be allowed to run.
One possible obstacle in the proposal is that it doesn't specify which rebel group or groups would be allowed to represent the opposition in peace talks with the Assad regime. Another is that it remains to be seen whether any rebel faction would even sit at the bargaining table without a guarantee of Assad's ouster.
One of the trickiest parts of the resolution was identifying which Syrian groups might be excluded from the peace process due to their standing as terrorist organizations, The New York Times reported.