Syria 'cease-fire': Lull before the storm

Gaps between the Gulf- and Turkey-backed Sunni rebels and the Assad regime, Iran and Hezbollah on the other, are likely too great to bridge.

March 7, 2016 08:08
2 minute read.
Smoke rises during fighting in the village of Ahmadiyah in Syria

Smoke rises during fighting in the village of Ahmadiyah in Syria, as seen from the Israeli side of the border fence between Syria and the Golan Heights [File]. (photo credit: REUTERS)


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The partial “cease-fire” negotiated by the US and Moscow appears bound to fall apart at any moment as parties in the Syria war prepare for a renewal of fighting.

The deal that began last week allowed the war to continue at a slow boil against Islamic State and al-Qaida’s Nusra Front, but could soon reignite full force if either side is unhappy with the status quo.

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And there are a plethora of signs that both sides are preparing for such an eventuality.

On Sunday, Russia’s Defense Ministry said the cease-fire had been violated 15 times in the past 24 hours.

Since the partial truce went into effect at midnight on February 28, 135 people have been killed in areas covered by the deal, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said on Saturday, highlighting its fragile nature as plans to continue peace talks continue to be delayed.

And the gaps between the positions of the Gulf- and Turkey-backed Sunni rebels on the one side, and the regime of President Bashar Assad, Iran and Hezbollah on the other, are likely too great to bridge.

The rebels are demanding that Assad step down, but are aware that the Russian military intervention has drastically reset the battlefield, putting them in a much more difficult position.


Some experts see the partial truce solidifying as states backing the rebels could be rethinking their position.

“I think the cease-fire may in fact hold for now, at least in its current half-broken form,” Joel Parker, a researcher on Syria at the Moshe Dayan Center for Middle Eastern and African Studies at Tel Aviv University, told The Jerusalem Post.

“Turkey and Saudi Arabia face a number of issues keeping them from focusing solely on Syria, and America is distracted by election year politics and is unlikely to boldly go against Russia as long as it can keep civilian deaths at a relative low rate,” he said.

The fight appears to be focusing on Islamic State, which nevertheless continues to carry out bombings in Baghdad, Damascus and Homs, he noted.

Parker said the fight to overthrow Assad is one of many serious problems the Arab, Gulf and Turkish states are facing right now, and “this leads me to believe that unless Turkey and Saudi Arabia feel renewed fighting will offer them dividends, they may be recalibrating their positions.”

Robert Ford, a former US ambassador to Syria who is currently a senior fellow at the Middle East Institute in Washington, was quoted in The Wall Street Journal as saying, “I see zero prospect of a political deal. The cessation of hostilities, if it lasts, will just lead to a de facto partition of Syria.”

However, too many players, such as Turkey and the rebels, are loath to see Syria partitioned, which means that fighting is likely to resume in due course. It is just the Russian intervention that has caused a rethinking in strategy.

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