Fragile cease-fire takes hold in war-torn Syria
The first stage of a tentative U.S.-Russia brokered peace deal intended to end Syria’s devastating civil war went into effect this week, beginning with a seven-day cease-fire that appeared to be holding as The Week went to press. Under the agreement negotiated by Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad will stop hitting opposition targets in exchange for a cessation of hostilities by rebel fighters. The truce does not apply to militant groups considered terrorists, including ISIS and the al Qaida affiliate Jabhat Fateh al-Sham (JFS). The country’s major rebel groups said they supported the deal “with harsh reservations,” noting that Assad might use the terrorist loophole to target them. Just hours before the cease-fire started, the dictator pledged “to retake every piece of land from the terrorists”—his blanket term for all opposition fighters.
If the truce holds for a week, Russia and the U.S. will carry out coordinated airstrikes on ISIS and JFS. Some Pentagon officials expressed deep reservations about collaborating with Moscow, which backs Assad, while the U.S. supports his removal. Kerry sought to tamp down the deal’s critics. “Sure, this is less than perfect,” he said. “But flawed compared to what? Compared to nothing?” Up to 500,000 people have been killed and 11 million displaced in Syria’s five-year civil war.
What the columnists said
It’s an epic understatement to call this deal “a long shot,” said Frederic Hof and Faysal Itani in Newsweek.com. The Assad regime has a track record of breaking truces, and there are no international monitors on the ground to ensure it will keep its word this time. Add in the fact that the terrorist JFS group is fighting alongside more moderate rebels in many places, and you have a perfect excuse for Russia and Assad to commit cease-fire violations.
For the people on the ground, a break in fighting “is not nothing,” said Randa Slim in ForeignPolicy.com. Just ask the civilians living in devastated Aleppo, who are bombed daily by Russian and regime planes and are “suffering from starvation under sieges imposed by the Syrian army.” As a survivor of the 15-year Lebanese civil war, “I can attest that even temporary reprieves mean a lot to people living in fear of their lives.”
It isn’t in America’s interest for this deal to work out, said Eli Lake in Bloomberg.com. If the cease-fire somehow sticks for seven days, the next stage would see our intelligence officers sharing “the locations of U.S.-backed rebels in Syria with a Russian Air Force that has been bombing them for nearly a year.” Russian President Vladimir Putin has played a masterful game in Syria. When Moscow first intervened there a year ago, President Obama arrogantly predicted that Russia would be sucked into “a quagmire.” Instead, Putin’s puppet dictator, Assad, is more powerful than ever, and Moscow is in the driver’s seat for any serious negotiations over Syria’s political future. Thanks to Obama’s complacency, Russia now has “real military power in the Middle East for the first time since the 1970s.”