Thursday, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced that the Syrian government and opposition rebels agreed to the terms of a ceasefire. This latest agreement represents a possible turning point in a conflict that has ravaged Syria for nearly six years. While the full details of the pending rapprochement remain unclear, leaders of Syria’s military and Armed Forces indicated, in a report from the state-run news agency SANA, that their operations would officially end Friday, at midnight (1).
The agreement comes at a time when the Syrian government has regained strategic ground in the conflict, forcing the rebel opposition––a depleted, fragmented confederation––to compromise. Last week, the Syrian regime took full control of Aleppo. The successful surge was the subject of considerable international attention, as news reports highlighted the mounting humanitarian crisis in Syria. The year-long battle in east Aleppo, alone, is a story of near-daily attacks, including airstrikes, explosive barrels and bombs loaded with chlorine gas. Civilians––men, women and children––are among Aleppo’s thousands of victims. Since the civil war began 2011, more than 400,000 Syrians have been killed, and nearly 5 million have fled the country, according to the United Nations (2). The UN Security Council has repeatedly attempted to resolve the war and the consequent humanitarian crisis; however, Russia––a permanent member of the council and ally of the Syrian regime––has vetoed such attempts.
Thursday’s agreement, which also includes measures to oversee the ceasefire and plans for peace talks among the warring parties, does not include the UN. The United States, in particular, has been sidelined from conversations. Previously, the US has tried and ultimately failed to orchestrate a lasting ceasefire in Syria. Despite Putin and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s insistence that the US remain out of this possible resolution, the US has already expressed optimism regarding the agreement. The US State Department described the deal as a “positive development” that it hoped would be “implemented and fully respected by all parties” (3).
The parties involved will indeed determine the success of the ceasefire and subsequent agreements. The deal, which excludes jihadist groups, was confirmed by the High Negotiations Committee (HNC), a body regarded as Syria’s main opposition. The HNC functions as an umbrella organization comprised of various actors, such as the Free Syrian Army (FSA) and a number of other political and armed oppositional factions. In total, 13 armed opposition factions have signed on to the ceasefire, according to FSA spokesman Osama Abu Zaid. Several of the rebel groups that have signed the deal have received American military aid. The rebels’ influence and control reaches from the northwest along Syria’s border with Turkey, to the south along the country’s border with Jordan (4). Although the agreement was negotiated by officials from Russia, Iran and Turkey, alongside the Syrian government and rebel representatives, opposition groups insist that they have not had direct talks with the Assad regime and maintain their position that President Assad should have no place in the future of Syria.
If the cessation of hostilities continues into the new year, then the parties will meet for talks in Astana, the capital of Kazakhstan, before the end of January. By this time, US President-Elect Donald Trump should be sworn into the presidency. Trump has said that his administration would not support Syrian rebels and has claimed that fighting terrorism would be his Syrian policy. In response, Assad has referred to Trump as a “natural ally.” Meanwhile, Russian foreign minister, Sergey V. Lavrov, said Thursday that the Trump administration––unlike the Obama administration––would be welcome to join the peace process in Astana after Inauguration Day (5).
(1) Dewan, Angela. "Syria Ceasefire Deal Reached between Regime and Rebels, Russia Says." CNN. Cable News Network, 29 Dec. 2016. Web. 30 Dec. 2016. <http://www.cnn.com/2016/12/29/middleeast/syria-ceasefire-talks-turkey-russia/index.html>.
(3) "Syria Conflict: Ceasefire Agreed, Backed by Russia and Turkey." BBC News. BBC, 29 Dec. 2016. Web. 30 Dec. 2016. <http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-38460127>.
(5) Hubbard, Ben, and Neil Macfarquhar. "New Cease-Fire Begins in Syria, but Violations Are Reported Within Hours." The New York Times. The New York Times, 29 Dec. 2016. Web. 30 Dec. 2016. <http://www.nytimes.com/2016/12/29/world/middleeast/syria-cease-fire.html>.
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