Delays and bombs diminish Syrian ceasefire hopes

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Unfortunately, it seems I spoke too soon in the last issue, when I announced with hope a new ceasefire in Syria.

The provisional ceasefire, which was scheduled to come into effect last Friday, has only now been signed by the various diplomats who have worked on it.

Foremost among these are U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov.

As I reported previously, the two announced that they had essentially reached a deal for provisional peace last week, but the deal fell through thanks to small differences in the visions each side desired.

Whereas the U.S. was committed to ending all bombings and military actions, Russia was hesitant to stand down its long and successful campaign of airstrikes against Syrian rebel forces.

It was backed in this regard by the Syrian government itself, whose troops have seen a rash of recent successes thanks to constant bombardment by Russian bombers.

Although the U.S. agreed that military action against ISIS was a valid exemption to the truce, Kerry was pressing the Russians to cease their attacks against non-ISIS rebels.

The U.S. policy in the region has been to support non-ISIS rebels, the so-called “moderates,” against both Syrian president Bashar al-Assad’s regime and ISIS itself.

Russia, historically a close ally with Assad, has instead been treating both ISIS and non-ISIS groups as terrorists.

Indeed, Assad said in prepared remarks Sunday that he was eager for a ceasefire, as long as the “terrorists” and their supporters do not use it to further their agenda.

“It’s about preventing other countries, especially Turkey, from sending more recruits, more terrorists, more armaments, or any kind of logistical support to those terrorists,” the dictator said in the remarks.

Late Sunday, Kerry and Lavrov indicated to the press that they had finally agreed on appropriate verbiage for the ceasefire, and would ask their respective heads of state to pressure allies into complying.

If talks between Obama and Putin go through successfully, Russia would require Assad to stand down his troops for the allotted time, while Obama would be speaking to Turkey and the various non-ISIS rebel groups on the ground.

Should this come to pass, it seems like that Putin will encounter far more success than Obama.

Putin’s grasp over Assad is well established, and if Putin is serious about promoting peace in the region then Assad will assent.

Obama, on the other hand, has a far looser grasp over Turkey and the rebel factions.

Moreover, just as Kerry announced that a “provisional agreement” had been reached with Russia, however, a series of deadly bombing attacks has threatened the peace.

On Sunday explosions in Damascus and Homs killed more than 150 people: in Damascus, multiple bomb blasts in the southern district killed at least 87 people, while twin car bombs in Homs killed at least 59.

ISIS, which was not included in any of the peace talks or the provisional agreement, claimed responsibility for the heinous actions.

These attacks, along with the differences in views between the U.S. and Russia and historical failures in producing ceasefires in the region, have many skeptical that the truce will ever come to fruition.

Should the ceasefire go through, though, civilians in the region will benefit immensely.

Aid workers have been consistently stymied in their attempts to deliver food and medical supplies to those trapped in the conflict.

Constant fighting, including indiscriminate shelling and bombing from all sides, has made the area a no-go zone for all but the boldest aid organizations.

Doctors Without Borders, one of those select few, has suffered heavy losses in the conflict as a result of several incidences of hospital bombings.

Nevertheless, those in power on all sides continue to use the peace talks as little more than a bargaining tool.

Though the U.S. seems most committed to the ceasefire — perhaps because of its poor showing in the conflict thus far — it too is politicizing what should be a humanitarian effort.

The success of the peace talks depends entirely on whether the many sides can temporarily set aside their own agendas to help the innocent victims of the war.

In this regard, things are looking up. Both Assad and his enemies have expressed interest in a cessation of the hostilities that have so far killed more than a quarter of a million people.

Rebel leaders have reciprocated Assad’s statements that he is willing to embrace a ceasefire which opposition groups will not exploit.

Putin and Obama, who are scheduled to finalize the truce over a phone conversation on Tuesday, have also each expressed a similar sentiment.

Whether these statements wil be translated to actions or will remain rhetorical tools will be seen in a few weeks.

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