On Friday, a ceasefire deal was reached between Russian negotiators and rebel forces in Syria, putting a temporary halt to the violence in the Southern region of the country. Under the deal, rebels agreed to give up their heavy arms in exchange for the Syrian military withdrawing from four villages in the Deraa province. According to Al Jazeera, Syrian military forces will not be allowed to remain in the area re-taken by the government.
The military campaign in question was launched two weeks ago to recapture the southern province of the country. Over the past year, a series of military victories has helped Syrian forces, led by President Bashar al-Assad, recapture large amounts of territory. The military victories have come, as is typical in this conflict, with heavy civilian casualties and displacement. The ceasefire agreement also grants Russian military police control over the border area between Jordan and Syria in the hopes that Syrian refugees will trust the Russians to enforce the terms of the agreement and begin shepherding refugee families back to their homes.
After the ceasefire deal was reached, refugee families who had been stranded on the Jordanian border began returning to the areas they fled from. According to the UNHCR, 60,000 of the more than 320,000 people who fled the intense fighting, which began on June 19th, are stranded along the border. Jordan, who is currently hosting over 1.3 million Syrian refugees, was not able to accept any more displaced persons. Jordan has continued to keep its borders shut, hoping the rest of the displaced Syrians will be able to return to their homes under the terms of the new agreement.
Fayez al-Duwairi, a military analyst, told Al-Jazeera that he expects to see larger numbers returning to their homes inside Syria only if the agreement is strictly followed. “If people are given safe passage and rebels hand over their weapons, we will see more displaced Syrians return to their homes. It all depends on whether the various aspects of the truce agreement are applied.”
Of course, doubts about the ability of both sides to uphold the terms of the peace agreement are prevalent. The most recent de-escalation pact broke down quickly and talks between the two sides have been few and far between. If this agreement is to hold, much of the weight of responsibility falls on the Russians, who have a presence in the country and who brokered the deal. They must not turn a blind eye to any infringements which may undermine the efficacy of these talks. The fates of over 320,000 civilians hang in the balance.
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