Little hope of a political transition in Damascus

US secretary of state John Kerry and Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov shake hands in Geneva where they discussed the crisis. Kevin Lamarque / AFP
US secretary of state John Kerry and Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov shake hands in Geneva where they discussed the crisis. Kevin Lamarque / AFP

Last week, the United States and Russia agreed to a deal for a temporary ceasefire that might be the first step towards a political transition in Syria after more than five years of war between pro-Assad forces and rebel groups.

Writing in the pan-Arab daily Asharq Al Awsat, Syrian columnist Fayez Sarah noted the importance of the deal, but added that it was difficult to assess its possible effects because much of the detail was under wraps.

Sarah said enough was known to say that both parties wanted to speed up the search for a political solution for the Syrian conflict, but they had divergent visions.

“Russians only see in the ceasefire and negotiations an opportunity to improve the political and field position of their alliance with the Assad regime, Iran and their militias,” Sarah said.

“In this respect, they want to show the world their keenness and efforts to halt the armed conflict and move towards a political solution in participation with the US.

“For their part, Americans merely consider the deal as one last political accomplishment for president Barack Obama in a catastrophic matter that has kept the world busy and on which Mr Obama could not achieve any progress.”

Rather, the writer said, Mr Obama had contributed to the deterioration of the situation in Syria, and as such it was no surprise that the Americans were willing to make concessions to the Russians.

“This explains the reserve expressed by the Americans in disclosing the details of the deal,” he concluded.

According to Dr Saleh Abdul Rahman Al Maneh, this vision of peace in Syria represents the view of the oppositions High Negotiations Committee but not that of president Bashar Al Assad, whose regime refuses to yield to the international will and is adamant on pursuing its war against the opposition.

“A military officer of the Al Assad regime recently told the BBC that the Lebanese civil war lasted for 15 years and that the Syrian civil war might last that long as well,” he wrote in The National’s Arabic language sister paper Aletihad.

“This means that the Syrian regime and its allies do not see any need for peace because they believe they can pursue their war against civilians and continue burning down Syrian cities with the help of Russia, Iran and Hizbollah.”

According to an online map that is updated daily, ISIL and the Kurds represent the two greatest powers in Syria, followed by the Syrian government forces and then the Arab- and western-backed armed opposition forces.

“If we scrutinise this map, we see two undeclared states being actually built on Iraqi-Syrian territory: Kurdistan and ISIL,” Al Maneh said.

He noted that the only difference between these two entities was that the first was being created with the support of the US while the second was being fought by an international US-Arab alliance.

“There are 27 non-governmental military groups fighting in Syria aside from the Russian, American, Turkish and Iranian air forces, and Assad government forces. This means that any regional or international agreements will be hard to implement on the ground,” the writer added.

“Even previous ceasefires did not last long due to each party’s ambitions to improve their military, negotiating and political positions at the expense of the other groups and parties.”

Al Maneh concluded that if the war actually ended, any political vision for the future of post-war Syria should take into account the geostrategic as well as the humanitarian and economic factors in rebuilding the country.

* Jennifer Attieh

Published: September 19, 2016 04:00 AM


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