After five years of bloodshed and tragedy in Syria, it is hard to be optimistic about the conflict in Syria. The inaction of the international community and indecisiveness of the superpowers led to the biggest humanitarian catastrophe of the last several decades. The immediate human cost of the war together with the increasing number of refugees and extremely hard situation for internally displaced people are well documented and have frequently been reported.
Regardless of the current pessimism about the future for the conflict, there is always hope for some resolution to be found. For instance, after every international initiative or a “Kerry-Lavrov” summit, regardless of the previous failures and disappointments, we try to understand the outcome of the meeting and discuss the feasibility of success for an endeavor sponsored by the two major powers of the international system.
Last Friday, we had another one of these instances. After long negotiations, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov once again made statements about the state of their negotiations regarding the conflict in Syria. Come what may, each time there is some hope that this time the outcome will be different. However, it sounded like even Kerry’s expectation was low when he said, “Today we are announcing an arrangement that we think has the capability of sticking, but it’s dependent on people’s choices.”
This time there are so many question marks about the agreement and its possible implementation. The bombing of Idlib by Syrian regime forces a day after the declaration of the agreement demonstrates the approach of the regime to the idea of reaching a solution in the conflict. Although some would call it an attack before the beginning of the ceasefire, the attack that killed 58 people and wounded more in one of the holiest weeks of the Islamic calendar demonstrates the level of good will on the regime side in regards to finding a genuine solution. According to Kerry, the most significant dimension of the agreement is to prevent Assad’s air force from flying anywhere the opposition is present. This a little diluted no-fly zone expected to deter the Syrian forces not to attack areas where the opposition exists. Secretary Kerry stated that the arrangement “should put an end to the barrel bombs, an end to the indiscriminate bombing of civilian neighborhoods.” However there will be challenging periods in the future. Previous ceasefires were constantly broken by the regime with the pretext of the war against terrorism, even though most of the targets were civilian ones.
There are still so many unanswered questions. Now, it is not clear who will control the regime and clear its air strikes when the regime attacks a target and then claims that it belonged to a terrorist group. Does the regime need clear prior permission for these operations? And what will happen if the attacks occur just because the groups belong solely to opposition factions.
Can Russia and the U.S. implement this and push the Syrian regime to stop these bombings when it is considered not a terrorist group? We are talking about a regime that has been killing civilians for the last five years and implemented siege strategies around the country designed to starve local populations against its own people as a cruel act of retribution. Previous promises about the use of chemical weapons also turned out to be dubious. Above all, it is a regime that uses multilateral meetings and initiatives to gain time and build more capacity to continue to follow its policies of destruction.
This article was first published by Daily Sabah on September 11, 2016.