Syria truce brings glimmer of hope

2016-03-04 18:15
Children reach out for sweets distributed by Russian military in Maarzaf, Syria. (AP)

Children reach out for sweets distributed by Russian military in Maarzaf, Syria. (AP)

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Beirut - A shaky cease-fire in Syria brokered by Moscow and Washington has survived its first week, outlasting sceptics' expectations and providing some hope that a diplomatic solution to the five-year-old war might be possible.

With daily incidents of artillery shelling, airstrikes and clashes, it would be easy to dismiss the "cessation of hostilities" as a charade.

But the partial truce, which came into effect February 27, has dramatically reduced overall violence across the devastated country - a remarkable accomplishment in a war that has killed a quarter million people, displaced half the population and decimated towns and villages.

And because the cease-fire excludes areas held by the Islamic State group and al-Qaeda's Syria affiliate, the Nusra Front, some of the continuing violence is not technically a breach.

Much now depends on whether peace talks actually resume next week and make progress - and on the determination of the Russians and Americans to prevent a full-scale resumption of fighting.

So far, the cease-fire has failed to achieve one of its most important objectives: to facilitate the free flow of desperately needed aid supplies to besieged areas in Syria.

"Fewer Syrians may be dying in bomb attacks but they are still facing starvation," said Henrietta McMicking of The Syria Campaign, an opposition advocacy group. The UN said on Monday it planned to deliver assistance to about 154 000 people over the following five days in Syria, but only a trickle of that aid has been delivered so far.

The international community is hoping that if the cease-fire continues to hold, it will ease the refugee flow toward neighbouring countries and Europe. But the truce would have to be sustained for weeks, if not months, to discourage people from fleeing and for refugees to contemplate returning. 

The sides agreed to an initial cease-fire of two weeks with the aim of extending it if it works, and there is no clear day-after scenario for what happens if no formal extension occurs. 

It would be awkward for the sides to simply resume the previous level of attacks. But if the violations ramp up and the talks go nowhere, the effort could unravel in stages. Saudi Arabia and Turkey could then stoke the fire further by deciding to arm rebels with more efficient weapons to carry on fighting. And the Syrian government will probably be eager to complete its effort to encircle rebel-Aleppo and make additional advances in the north and around Damascus.

Read more on:    us  |  russia  |  syria

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