With almost three weeks since the beginning of a Russia-backed government assault on opposition forces in Syria’s southwest province of Deraa, Russia and Syrian rebel groups have finally reached a ceasefire agreement after days of tense negotiations. Under the agreement, rebel forces will surrender heavy weapons, and in exchange, the Syrian army will leave four villages: Kahil, al-Sahwa, al-Jiza, al-Misaifra as well as allow safe passage for opposing fighters into rebel-held areas.
The ceasefire occurs too late for some as 150 civilians have reportedly died since the fighting began. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, over 330,000 have been displaced with 60,000 forced to live at the Nasib/Jaber-border crossing between Syria and Jordan. Jordan continues to provide aid to Syrian refugees, however, refuses to reopen its borders after a suicide attack killed six Jordanian soldiers in 2016.
As the Russian-backed Syrian regime broke the truce agreements that were established last year, Human Rights groups urged immediate political discourse amidst fears of the continuing devastating impact military offensives has on civilians and civilian infrastructure. A recent report released by the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the recapture of Damascus by pro-government forces earlier this year concluded a widespread systematic bombardment of inhabited areas, including education and medical facilities, and accuses it of amounting to a war crime. The report continues to condemn the violent assault on civilian lives as a consequence of government-backed military action against opposing forces. UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi, urged “all parties to take all necessary measures to safeguard civilian lives, allow freedom of movement, and protect civilian infrastructure, including medical and educational facilities, at all times, in accordance with international humanitarian law and international human rights law.”
According to UNHCR, a growing Syrian refugee population with an estimated 900,000 internally displaced since the beginning of this year, combined with violence between government and rebel forces limiting the ability for NGO’s to provide humanitarian aid, the need for sustained truce continues to increase each day. Countries within the region that are financially able to, have a humanitarian obligation to provide assistance and refuge to those fleeing conflict. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights issued a statement addressing the international community, and countries within the region, to take in fleeing civilians from Syria and provide financial assistance.
The current negotiated truce agreement is suggestive of a capacity for sustained truce talks between pro-government and opposition forces. Another breakdown of an established truce will result in more civilians getting caught in the crossfires and suffering will continue to increase. All parties involved in the conflict have a duty to not only ensure the safety of civilian life but to strive to maintain a peace agreement.