Among the 2016 year trends I wrote about earlier, I indicated that the Syrian civil war conflict may be heading towards some sort of resolution. Recent events on the ground may be bearing this out. In February, Russia and the US announced a fragile truce for the first time since the conflict began which has already taken close to a quarter of a million lives.The truce ostensibly meant that there will be a ‘cessation of hostilities’ between those forces backing Bashar Al-Assad and the different rebel groups aiming to end the regime. The hope for many Syrians was that it may give time for humanitarian assistance to come in for besieged cities and towns.
The agreement did not come from nowhere. In September last year, Russia began a bold military engagement to quickly shore up support for Assad’s forces and tilt the balance in his favor, which surprised many in the region who were backing the rebel forces. ISIS has taken precedence as a common denominator threat for both Western and pro-Assad factions.
Bolstered by Russian backup, Assad looked to cut off rebel supply lines and seemed set to take over the key city of Aleppo. This spurred several relevant countries with vested interests, under the title of the International Syria Support Group (ISSG), to push forward with a truce. Under their original framework laid out last November, a truce would eventually lead to some diplomatic settlement and elections as agreed by the warring parties. The truce was signed on 22 February and came into effect on 27 February.
The deal mandates a stop in the fighting between all signed parties, including some 70 rebel factions that constitute the Free Syrian Army, as well as pro-Assad forces. A few parties though, such as ISIS and the Nusra Front, considered by the UN Security Council to be terrorists, are not part of the deal and are still fair game to battle.
While on the surface, this truce may seem like a positive step,the reality on the ground is fairly depressing. No sooner was the truce signed then a number of Russian air-strikes continued against certain rebel groups, with both claiming the other initiated the hostilities. This hasn’t nullified the truce but certainly has put it under strain. While both sides are suspicious of the other, the truce has allowed for much needed aid to pour into the country, hoping to reach over a million affected Syrians.
What happens now is anybody’s guess. These sorts of truces normally don’t mean an end to the fighting but merely a break for each side to recover from damage, consolidate and rearm. Already, there are reports of both Turkey and Saudi Arabia sending fresh military supplies and troops respectively into the battle zone. So this may just be a build up to an even more intense stage of the conflict.
Peace talks are set to resume in Switzerland on March 9. There is still a long way before any political settlement is likely to be achieved. A major stumbling block will be whether Assad would agree to a peaceful transition from power. And the structure of the country may be permanently changed. There is talk that the Russians are looking into a federal, decentralized political vision for Syria giving each region more autonomy.
While the above is my attempt at a frank and objective assessment of the situation, I do sincerely feel aggrieved at the pain of the Syrians, who are the biggest losers in the civil war. May Allah sbt guide the people into a better state of peace and safety they need.
Featured Image Source: [Abdalrhman Ismail/Reuters]