Civilians in Idlib hold out little hope for lasting peace

Truce declared by regime will not last despite reported progress in peace talks, residents say

People ride on their motorbikes along a street at the clock square in the city of Idlib, Syria August 3, 2019. Picture taken August 3, 2019. REUTERS/Mahmoud Hassano

Residents of Idlib have welcomed the respite from months of bombardment by Syrian President Bashar Al Assad's regime and Russia but doubt it will last.

They remain pessimistic despite positive statements from the latest round of Syria peace talks under the Astana process.

"I believe that rebel forces have proved over the past months of military campaign of the Russian-Assad regimes that a military solution will never work,” said Bilal Munshar, 34, a teacher in the Idlib town of Maaret Al Numan.

“I think this halt is only a way for both regimes to recover and reload their guns and warplanes to conduct further operations."

Mr Munshar questioned how long Turkey would continue to support rebel groups in the region as it competes with regime allies Russia and Iran for influence in a post-war Syria,

“Rebel forces fought bravely and resisted the military offensive because Turkey gave maximum support," he said.

"But what will happen if they stop and leave us to be crushed like what happened in Aleppo?"

Two days of peace talks in the Kazakhstan capital Astana at the weekend ended with Russia, Iran, Syria and Turkey announcing agreement on forming a committee to write a new Syrian constitution.

The committee is part of a UN-backed process for a political solution to the eight-year war, but the parties did not give any concrete details.

“This is not the first or second – it is the 13th Astana round since 2016 and after every round the situation here gets worse," Mr Munshar said.

"What we should hope for or be positive about this time?”

“This negotiation might stop the bloodshed for a while, but it will not maintain stability in the region in the long term.

"The only solution is to form an international committee to run the peace process, not just Russia and Turkey or Iran, who more than anyone have bias and an agenda to fight for.”

Asma Ayoub, 29, a nurse, lost her home in the bombing just days before the regime declared a truce on Thursday.

She is one of about 400,000 civilians displaced during three months of bombardment and fighting that saw little territory change hands. The UN says another 400 civilians were killed.

"We had our house destroyed last week because of Russian attacks in Saraqib, and now I’m in refugee with my five children, without shelter," Ms Ayoub said.

"Who is going to compensate us? Russia? The Syrian regime, or the Syrian opposition?”

Abdullah Almousa, a researcher and specialist on Syrian affairs, said the latest talks were positive but did not go far enough.

"This Astana conference was different because it put the rewriting of the Syrian constitution on the negotiating table," Mr Almousa said from Istanbul.

"However, the constitution committee was only agreed on in principle. Its members and the main responsibilities and duties of the body are not yet agreed on.

"The future will not be as bright as we hope.

"Russian-regime forces will resume operations to extend their power, while Turkey on the other side will strengthen the rebels to recapture what was lost and be on the strong side in the next round of negotiations."