The dire humanitarian situation for civilians on both sides boosts the urgent need for a resolution
Sary: Both sides seem adamant that this ceasefire work, and that might hold the key to its success
Editor’s Note: Ghadi Sary is an Academy fellow with the Chatham House Middle East and North Africa Programme. The opinions expressed here belong to the author
Despite the skepticism that accompanied the announcement of the ceasefire in Syria, it might indeed be, as Secretary John Kerry has said, the last hope for bringing peace to the war-torn country.
Every group involved in both high-level negotiations and fighting on the ground to needs to understand this if they sincerely want the civil war to end peacefully.
The ceasefire comes after months of negotiations between the US and Russia over a lasting cessation of hostilities in Syria that allows for a political transition, ultimately ending the conflict. Both sides seem adamant that this ceasefire work, and that might hold the key to its success.
The agreement itself focuses on halting military operations across the country as a prelude for further negotiations revolving around political power sharing.
On the ground, five-and-a-half years of bloody conflict have left fighters on both sides showing signs of utter exhaustion. With depleting human and military resources, both sides are relying on continued support from either the US and its allies (in the case of the Syrian opposition) or from Russia and Iran (as is the case for President Assad).
The fact that the US and Russia have come together after months of tough negotiations to produce a detailed, technical, step-by-step agreement for a ceasefire will have to be met seriously by allies of both sides.
Indeed, the agreement seems aimed at guaranteeing an end to the conflict between the Syrian regime and the rebels while focusing at length on mutually targeting radical Islamist fighters with links to listed terrorist groups.
The provision for a joint military-operations room between the US and Russia on Syria will address one the main reasons for the collapse of the previous ceasefire – namely, Russian Air Force targeting of moderate rebel forces. Equally, Syrian opposition groups will find themselves compelled to disengage from jihadist group Jabhat-Fateh al-Sham, the rebranded former Al-Qaeda affiliate previously known as Al-Nusra. Such a move would take away one of President’s Assad’s justifications for targeting the rebel forces.
Despite Assad’s latest comments about “retaking all of Syria from the terrorists,” the announcement from the Syria Arab Army of a cessation of hostilities for seven days is a clear indication of its acceptance of the Russian mediation.
Given the Russian casualties and the billions the country has spent on the Syrian conflict, President Putin has earned himself the leverage he needs to convince his local allies of the latest peace plan. Should President Assad fail to abide by the provisions of this deal, he would be upsetting his own allies and not just his foes, which will affect his chances in any future political process in Syria, even a transitional one.
The US on the other hand, armed with the success of its other ally in Syria, the Kurdish dominated Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF,) will also be seeking to send a strong message about the new reality to groups on the ground.
The SDF have managed in recent months to recapture large pieces of territory from ISIS, and with US support have managed to establish a form of local governance and allow the resumption of basic services in most of these areas.
This is proving to be the best available scenario keeping ISIS and radical groups – as well as regime targeting of civilians – away from those areas. This suits the interest of the US administration, as combating ISIS and global jihad remains a priority for US national security and will remain so for the next administration.
Groups that wish to continue receiving US support will need to distance themselves from radical groups and align behind a political settlement for the war.
This ceasefire will offer moderate opposition groups the opportunity to separate from those radical groups and imitate the SDF model, something they were unable to do while continuously being targeted by Russian, Syrian and Iranian forces.
It is also an opportunity for the moderate Syrian opposition to show that it still holds control over rebel groups fighting on the ground, something that the opposition High Negotiation Committee insisted on in its meetings in London last week. That was indeed one of the underlying messages communicated to Syrian rebel groups by the US administration following the announcement of the peace deal.
While many skeptics will point to the numerous technical difficulties that remain, the dire humanitarian situation for civilians on both sides is pushing the urgency for a resolution to the conflict in Syria.
Fighting in Aleppo last month has left hundreds of thousands of civilians in desperate need of aid.
Should aid convoys manage to make their way into besieged areas over the next couple of days, it will be very hard for anyone to claim that this ceasefire is not indeed that last real hope for peace in Syria.