Friday 24 November 2017

Is the prospect of peace in Syria simply too good to be true?

Was this the week peace in Syria was made - or were world powers just engaging in wishful thinking?

'It seems Bashar Al-Assad's commitment to peace may be waning as he gains ground against the rebels' Photo: Reuters
'It seems Bashar Al-Assad's commitment to peace may be waning as he gains ground against the rebels' Photo: Reuters

Rachel Lavin

The developments of the past week were said to be crucial to finally achieving a long-lasting, peaceful solution to the bloody and devastating war in Syria. But were promises of such an immediate downscaling of violence in Syria too good to be true?

Last week did begin with some glimmers of hope, as the Syrian regime allowed humanitarian convoys to deliver aid to civilians in seven besieged areas.

However, the Russian-backed government has continued its bombardment of Aleppo, already a sore point in the negotiations for peace.

Last Monday, a series of raids on the embattled city left seven dead at a Medicine Sans Frontieres Hospital, which was repeatedly hit during the bombardment. The attacks were branded war crimes by French and Turkish officials, with the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon saying the strikes violated international law.

It seems Bashar Al-Assad's commitment to peace may be waning as he gains ground against the rebels, and in a belligerent speech last Monday, he cast further doubt on his willingness to "cease hostilities".

"When does the West talk about a ceasefire? When the militants hurt. When the defeats begin," he said in an address to Syrian state news which was broadcast last Monday night.

However, last Wednesday Assad was reprimanded by an unexpected promoter of peace: Russia.

Vitaly Churkin, Russia's envoy to the UN, slammed Assad, particularly for his remarks before the cessation of hostilities was announced in which he pledged to retake the whole of the country.

He warned that if Syria "follows Russia's leadership in resolving this crisis, then they have a chance to come out of it in a dignified way," but that "If they in some way stray from this path - and this is my personal opinion - a very difficult situation could arise. Including for themselves."

While Churkin stressed this was his personal opinion, it could be a sign that Russia itself is looking for a 'dignified way' out of the conflict too.

This comes after Obama gave stark warning to Putin earlier in the week, saying it would be "smarter" to work for peace, rather than back Syria's weak government. As Obama said: "You send in your army when the horse you're backing isn't effective".

Another reason Russia may bow to peace is the entrance of Saudi Arabia into the conflict, which began joint training with Turkish forces on the Syrian border last week. The threat of two new international forces on the ground may finally force peace in the area, however it may also escalate the war if Russia and Assad don't comply.

Turkey has its own ulterior motives for military involvement in Syria too. A bombing in Ankara that targeted a military convoy last Wednesday killed 28 and injured 61 and was immediately blamed on the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK).

While the YPG (Kurdish People's Protection Units) has denied involvement, it points to wider hostilities between Turkey and US-backed Kurdish fighters who are trying to seize territory in the vacuum opened up by Russian air strikes on the Syrian-Turkish border. Yet another complication to the attempt to sow peace, and one which threatens to divide Turkey andNato.

While the international community struggles to make progress over the peace agreement for Syria, it emerged last week that Iraq was searching for "highly dangerous" radioactive material which was stolen last year, and Iraqi officials fear it could be used as a weapon if acquired by Isil.

While alarming, such news may actually unite those fighting for peace in Syria, reminding them that achieving peace is the first stepping stone to defeating Isil. Meanwhile, last Tuesday, Obama spoke on the US presidential race, warning: "Whoever's standing where I'm standing right now has the nuclear codes with them." But Obama is unconcerned by Trump who has been riding the wave of populism.

"I have a lot of faith in the American people," he said. "I think they'll make a sensible choice in the end."

Sunday Independent

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