The guns largely fell silent in Syria yesterday on the first day of the ceasefire, but if the Syrian regime’s media is any indication, the truce is precarious indeed. State television and one of its websites are seeking to persuade their audiences to fight on until victory.
The Arabic-language website of the Organization of Syrian Arab Radio and TV ignored all reports that the truce was generally holding, even though that was a remarkable development in a conflict that according to UN estimates, has taken more than 400,000 lives since it began in 2011.
Aside from a prominent story on the website yesterday about alleged rebel violations, along with a terse statement that a “calming” was going into effect (and that the military reserved the right to “respond decisively by using all means of fire” against violations), there was hardly a mention of the cease-fire. Likewise, a 30-minute television newscast late on Sunday did not mention the truce at all, despite the fact that the cease-fire could spell the difference between life and death for viewers and their loved ones.
Along with omitting news of the ceasefire, the regime website and TV are projecting the theme of “We are winning the war and will fight on until victory.”
The regime’s premise, bolstered by recent military successes, does not augur well for the long-term health of the cease-fire, which itself may prove to be a mere exercise in the Syrian army’s consolidation of gains, until renewed pressure can be applied against rebel fighters and civilians.
Except if Russia is willing to stop the regime. And that is a big “If.”
The Damascus suburb of Daraya, once a symbol of the uprising against President Bashar Assad, has now been transformed by the regime into a symbol of emerging victory over its opponents. The restoration of Daraya to regime control is being depicted, perhaps with justification, as a major turning point in the war. After years of siege, the area was evacuated by rebels and surrendered to the government last month.
Hours before the cease-fire went into effect, Assad visited Daraya. In protracted remarks to Syrian television, he did not mention the truce at all. Rather, he highlighted an alleged Western conspiracy against Syria that he stressed was failing.
Daraya is still a ghost town, but a confident Assad was upbeat. He vowed to press on with the war.
He even joked with his interviewer as he stood in the middle of a street that except for his entourage, was deserted.
He vowed to press on with the war. “We as a state, by coming to this area, also send a message that the Syrian state is determined to retake every area from the terrorists, and restore security and safety and to rebuild all that was destroyed,” he said.
In a post on the website, writer Khiyam Mohammed al-Zoebi elaborated on the victory theme.
“President Assad went to Daraya to prove to the entire world the strength of Syria in facing terrorism and defeating it in Syria and the entire region,” al-Zoebi wrote. “All the signs indicate the steadfastness of the Syrian army and its ability to settle the battle in the field, meaning that after the steadfastness of the Syrian regime against the vicious war waged on it, and the siding of its allies with it, matters are going in the direction of the final deciding of the battle, from which the Syrian state will not emerge defeated.
“The victory over terrorism and eliminating it, and foiling the plans of those who support it, has come within reach, especially after the downing of all the American and Western calculations regarding Syria,” he said. “I conclude by saying, terrorism does not harvest today anything but defeat and the striking against its roots in the various parts of Syria, especially in Aleppo and the Damascus countryside.”
The late Sunday TV news broadcast gave most prominence to Assad’s remarks in Daraya, but accorded nearly equal air time to visits by ministers, governors and army officers to wounded soldiers in hospitals.
Again the theme was, the regime is winning the war.
Footage from a hospital in Aleppo showed wounded soldiers flashing V signs at the camera from their beds. “Victory is near because right is on our side and right always wins,” said an officer who was not identified.
The broadcast then shifted to a report from the streets of Damascus, which said residents were having a joyous al-Adha holiday, not because of the cease-fire but rather because of “the victories of the army and its restoring of security and stability.”
The report showed children smiling in an amusement park and interviewed parents. “God willing, the victory of the army will be complete,” said one father.
In another post yesterday on the regime website, writer Zuheir Majid predicted that the truce would not work because the United States is still bent, in his view, on dismembering Syria.
“A battle of this sort to overthrow a country, a regime, a president, and to dismantle an army and divide a nation, has to have a parent that has the keys to its supreme control,” Majid wrote. “Secretary of State Kerry does not act unless he is aware which branches and factions of his are controlling on the ground the war that his country produced.”
In particular, Majid charged that the US would fail to ensure implementation of the cease-fire requirement that its allies, rebels of the Syrian Free Army, distance themselves from Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, a group linked to al-Qaida that the US and Russia are supposed to target jointly, according to the agreement.
“We think the [American] goal of the war has not been achieved yet, so it is too early to write its final chapter,” Majid wrote.