By Paulina Anaya.
Hell Put on Pause in Syria: The Recent Truce and the Country’s Civil War
With diminishing hope in the region, an end to the war soon seems unlikely. It has been five years since pro-democracy protests turned into a full-scale civil war; a conflict with two initial opposing sides has metamorphosed into one with more than three, complicating the theological power struggle in the region. Syria never wanted foreign intervention in the matter, and now that there is, matters are as worse as ever. The war and derived conflicts have not left much of Syria; the country and its people have been more than affected by the consistent air strikes and attacks. The war is already responsible for the biggest refugee crisis in history, with the United Nations estimating that 4.8 million have fled the country and another 6.5 million have been displaced. As a truce has recently come into effect, Syrians may finally have a chance to peacefully celebrate Eid since the conflict began.
After months of negotiations between the United States and Russia in Geneva, a truce came into effect on September 12, with the ceasefire to be renewed every 48 hours. The truce comes at a time of much needed humanitarian aid throughout the war-torn country which has seen escalating conflict in the last few months due to jihadist groups on top of clashes with government forces. The truce is to allow unhindered access to besieged areas in order to provide Syrians with humanitarian aid. All sides except jihadist groups agreed to the truce, which was supposed to ease the compliance of the truce and deliver the humanitarian aid.
The truce involves three phases –
- The Syrian government should cease all flying combat missions.
- There should be unhindered humanitarian access to all besieged areas, with Aleppo being the number one priority.
- If at the end of the seventh day there has been a decrease in violence, the U.S. and Russia will devise joint strikes against IS and Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, known as al-Nusra Front before it broke off ties with al-Qaeda in July. A Joint Implementation Center would also be established in order for both countries to share information on the whereabouts of jihadist and rebel groups and delineate the territories controlled by each.
Less than a week has passed and already the future of the truce is doubtful; the U.S. conducted an airstrike on September 17th which hit the Syrian army in Deir al-Zour, something which the Russian and Syrian government denounced. Several injuries and some 80 casualties were reported as a result of the strike. Initially, the Free Syrian Army was unsure of complying with the truce, thinking it would give way for the government to gain ground, but eventually changed their stance, only to find that the main sponsor of the truce had broken it on them. The U.S. army released a statement in which it clarified it thought it was attacking strategic IS positions, which either way sparked skepticism on the intentions of the airstrike, particularly because the truce does not include attacks on IS or other jihadist groups.
Current Situation of a Truce That Is Struggling to Hold Up
Russia claims it has held up its part of the truce and is very unhappy about the U.S. mistake, implying it could affect future co-operation. The truce was a leap of faith and the mistake will come at a high cost; U.S. relations with Russia and Syria were already delicate enough, and this mistake is sure to wither away the little confidence both countries put into the truce. The Syrian government has released a statement that said the airstrikes proved American support of jihadist groups, being unable to accept that the United States, had mistaken its target. Is its disbelief that unrealistic? The truce is holding on by a thread, and if it were to break, this one may well be on America.
Convoys meant to deliver aid have been on hold in Turkey and other parts of Syria because either facilitation letters have not yet been granted for them to clear army checkpoints or the jihadists have impeded access to their territory, the most significant being Aleppo, which so far has made it clear that jihadists will not negotiate with third parties.
With tension growing, the US Secretary of State John Kerry has made it clear to the Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov that none of the U.S.-Russian military plans for the end of the truce’s seventh day (if it holds that long) would take place until humanitarian aid is granted access to besieged areas. The U.S. hopes that the extra pressure will persuade the Russians to use their influence on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad so that permits are released quickly. Unfortunately, the United States is no longer in a position to make demands, according to Russia, the American party has not complied with what was agreed on the Geneva-signed agreement. Like in any ceasefire, it does not take much for the surfacing of “violations” and sides to blame each other. So far, a lot of the fighting is on hold, but with the opposition growing impatient by the day and no humanitarian aid delivered yet, the clock is ticking…
Breaking News: Another Failed Truce?
And just like that, on September 19, the truce officially vanished into thin air as several convoys were hit by an airstrike carried out near Aleppo. Twelve people have been confirmed dead and more than half of the original 31 trucks waiting to be granted permission to deliver humanitarian aid were hit. Humanitarian aid was one of the main points in the US-Russia agreement, but now, supplies have been damaged. Who was responsible for the attack is yet to be confirmed. Hours before the convoys were hit, there were reports of airstrikes in Homs and Aleppo. Currently, the U.S. is looking to broker an extension of the ceasefire with Russia, but the violence is already under way. With the resumption of fighting, the implementation of the truce has been jeopardized, could it be “Syria’s last chance at peace”?