End of Syria truce makes peace harder

Another broken ceasefire shows Syria needs a genuine political settlement, not words

Syria's Bashar Al Assad grimaces at a visitor at the presidential palace in Damascus. Regime forces are close to retaking the rebel-held parts of Aleppo. Photo by Sasha Mordovets/Getty Images
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There is something deeply upsetting about the sight of the United Nations General Assembly voting overwhelmingly over the weekend for a ceasefire in Syria – knowing full well that no such ceasefire will happen.

Particularly upsetting was the sight of US ambassador to the UN Samantha Power declaring that the vote was a chance “to stand up and tell Russia and Assad to stop the carnage” – even though it has been the failure of Ms Power’s boss, Barack Obama, to do anything that has prolonged and exacerbated the Syrian conflict. The US long ago stopped offering anything beyond mere words to the millions of Syrians suffering under the bombs of Bashar Al Assad and Vladimir Putin.

There was, in fact, a ceasefire in Syria over the past few days. It was unilaterally declared by Russia on Thursday, the day before the UN vote, to allow civilians to leave eastern Aleppo. It barely lasted a day, before the Syrian regime again began shelling the eastern half of the city, trapping more civilians inside.

This resumption of hostilities appeared to have caught Russia by surprise, although the country soon jumped right on board, promising airstrikes would continue “for as long as the bandits are still in Aleppo”. Since Russia, the Syrian regime’s closest supporter, cannot rein in Mr Al Assad, what hope for anyone else?

But this goes far beyond Russia. The truth is that the world has failed Syria and has allowed Mr Al Assad to wage all out war on his own people, almost with impunity.

The latest farce of a ceasefire is just one example. There have been other ceasefires in the past and all have been broken. America’s secretary of state John Kerry has been in repeated talks with Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov. But without a willingness by the US to put any real force behind their words, these are simply empty negotiations. No one need doubt Russia’s words – they are being spelled out by fighter jets in the skies above Aleppo – but America is merely mouthing platitudes without backing them up with actions.

That does not mean, however, that the solution is a military one. On the contrary, what is needed is a political settlement, as the UN’s special envoy Staffan de Mistura said yesterday. But the only way to get that is to force Mr Al Assad to the negotiating table – and past experience shows he will not walk with any willingness into negotiations.