Syria's seven-year civil war, which has claimed the lives of nearly half a million people and displaced millions more, could finally be coming to an end.
Last week, the former US ambassador to Syria, Robert Ford, said President Bashar al-Assad had "won" the brutal conflict, will probably stay in power and may never be held accountable for the crimes committed by his regime.
This stark assessment was endorsed this week by the United Nations special envoy to Syria, Staffan de Mistura, who called on rebel forces to accept that they had lost.
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Citing "critical" military gains made by government forces over the past nine months, and the involvement of numerous countries such as the US and Russia by proxy, De Mistura said the war was now almost over.
"For the opposition, the message is very clear," he told reporters. "If they were planning to win the war, facts are proving that is not the case. So now it's time to win the peace."
The liberation of the eastern city of Deir al-Zor from Islamic State by the Syrian military this week "marks a new phase in the conflict and an intensification of the battle for eastern Syria, where US-backed forces are also fighting IS", says ABC News.
De Mistura said he expected Islamic State's nominal capital, Raqqa, to fall within a matter of weeks and urged opposition and government forces to agree a new ceasefire that would pave the way for lasting peace.
With Aleppo now totally in the hands of the regime, and only Idlib province under opposition control, "what has always been unthinkable in the West is now happening: Bashar al-Assad’s forces look to be winning the war", says Robert Fisk in The Independent.
Russia's military intervention in Syria in 2015 was "a major game changer", says Gulf News, but the sobering reality is that countries opposed to Assad, including Qatar and Turkey, "were backing radical groups that had no interest in embracing the political opposition’s goals of building a free, secular and democratic Syria".
This has left a stark choice between the secular and relatively stable, yet repressive, Assad regime, or a fragmented Syria ruled by rival jihadist groups. As evidenced by the muted international response to the UN's latest claim that the regime used chemical weapons, it appears many Western governments are now ready to accept the devil they know.
As for Israel, which yesterday bombed a suspected chemical weapons factory in Syria, "those on the country's political Right who claimed that Assad was a greater danger than IS may have to think again", says Fisk, "not least because Assad may be the man they’ll have to talk to if they want to keep their northern border safe".
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