After the crumbling down of the agreement on cessation of hostilities in Syria last February, the U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry announced on Monday that a new agreement with Russia would replace localized piece-meal ceasefires with a revived nation-wide truce, as UN envoy Staffan de Mistura and world leaders struggle to get faltering peace talks back on track. In Paris for meetings on the Syrian crisis, Secretary Kerry said Russia had also committed to limiting the Syrian government’s ability to fly over civilian areas.
The Syrian opposition accuses President Bashar al-Assad’s military of violating the truce, bombarding hospitals and civilian targets in northern Syria and around Damascus.
A military buildup, involving new military Iranian units was noticed. The regime rhetoric of fighting till the end was another sign on the direction of the civil war.
Kerry said the United States and Russia shared their announcement with the other countries participating in stalled talks to end Syria’s long-running bleeding. He cautioned that the agreement would mean little if it’s not backed up by the parties on the ground. “These are words on a piece of paper, they are not actions. It is going to be up to the commanders in the field, and the interested parties — which includes us.” It is not clear, so far, whether his announcement would effectively stem the violence, or whether Russia and Syria even saw it the same way.
The first sign came from Damascus whose government announced a two-day renewal of the truce in and around Aleppo, ignoring flagrantly the Paris announcement.
Enforcing ceasefire in Syria was nearly impossible: attacks were still allowed against the Islamic State and the al-Qaeda linked Nusra Front. These groups are fighting in the same areas, making it difficult to distinguish which strikes violate the ceasefire and which ones do not. This confusion allowed the regime and its allies to follow suit in targeting mostly moderate opposition-backed areas. In their new statement, the U.S. and Russia committed to developing a “shared understanding” on this point, as a step toward eventually reviving peace talks.
The last attempt to revive a nationwide truce came as nations worked to get Syria’s government and opposition groups back to the table next week in Vienna, where negotiations in Geneva to secure a political transition faltered last month. The opposition’s High Negotiations Committee left the talks after accusing Assad’s forces of violating the truce and blocking aid to hard-hit areas.
Jean-Marc Ayrault, the French Foreign Minister, said after Paris’ meeting “the talks should take place next week.” He added that Iran, an Assad ally, should be involved, expressing his hope that the new U.S.-Russia agreement was “not just another declaration … it must be respected.”
There are still no indications the parties are any closer to agreement on the main sticking point, whether Assad can be part of the future government. Red lines are proclaimed equally by both opposing sides on this issue.
With the prevailing balance on the ground where Assad has now the upper hand, and supported by solid allies in Tehran and Moscow, it is unrealistic to expect him to negotiate his demise. Any transition period means his exit from power at its end. No sign of wavering down on holding to his post was noticed, even in this difficult time. The division of the opposition, and the fluctuation of support by its allies, locally and internationally, made the Syrian conflict long, bloody, and destructive. After five years of the crisis the Syrian rebels are denied the effective armaments to defend their areas and maintain their positions which were hard fought.
Reversing the results of the catastrophic war, mainly on the demographic changes forced on the Syrian people will not be possible with the actual balance of forces. Both sides are not counting yet on the political process to end the conflict.