Parsing Assad’s safe passage offer

The plan, widely hailed as progress, leaves open several questions

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What is one to make of the Assad regime's offer at the Geneva 2 talks to let women and children leave the besieged city of Homs? From one perspective, any kind of agreement has to be a good sign, particularly as expectations were so low.

But one also ought to remain incredulous because the Syrian regime has a history of offering safe passage and then imprisoning those who take the offer at face value. United Nations groups have previously been promised access to Yarmouk, a Palestinian refugee camp outside Damascus, only for the regime to renege on the deal.

This latest offer in Homs, one of the birthplaces of the uprising, also extended to male “civilians” – but only if their names are provided to the regime in advance, a move that should prompt serious reservations.

If women and children from the 800 families estimated to still be in Homs leave, it could give the regime carte blanche to attack the city and attribute any male casualties to the ranks of the terrorist groups Bashar Al Assad has claimed to be fighting against since the early days of the uprising.

The plan leaves several questions open: where will civilians go when they leave their homes in Homs? Displacement is hardly progress.

With the overwhelming likelihood that no significant resolution of the three-year conflict will emerge from Geneva 2, one could speculate that the regime is merely positioning itself to claim the moral high ground when the talks collapse.

This is a move conjured straight from the Israeli playbook in their own decades-long peace process: offering small concessions with one hand, while simultaneously digging further into an already deeply entrenched position with the other.

The heavy lifting of Geneva 2 is just beginning, with the topic of the talks turning to the proposed transition of power in Syria, a demand that a regime spokesman said could only be made by those who “live in a mythical world. Let them stay in Alice in Wonderland”.

Ought one to see the safe passage offer as also belonging to a fantasy world?