Ceasefire In Danger As Syrian Government Forces And Rebels Continue To Clash In Deraa

On Friday July 6th, Syrian rebels and forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad reached a ceasefire agreement in southern Syria which was brokered by one of Assad’s key allies: Russia.  According to an article written by Arwa Ibrahim published in Al Jazeera, the peace deal required that rebels give up their “heavy weapons” and in return, Syrian government forces would leave four cities in eastern Deraa: Kahil, al-Sahwa, al-Jiza, and al-Misaifra.  To maintain the ceasefire and prevent any further eruption of violence, Russian forces have agreed to oversee the reclaimed areas rather than immediately handing them over to Syrian government forces.  This is to ensure the credible commitment of the rebel groups to the ceasefire.  If Russian brokers had allowed Syria to occupy the negotiated territories, then this could potentially lead to rebel groups reneging on the deal.

Last July, a negotiated ceasefire between Jordan, the United States, and Russia declared Deraa a “de-escalation zone.”  Alice Su of The Atlantic explains that this peace settlement “decreased fighting but never ended it completely.”  An article published in CNN explains that the Syrian government violated this de-escalation zone when it launched an offensive against rebel strongholds in southern Syria about two weeks ago.  The United Nations Children’s Emergency Fund reported that about 65 children were among the 150 civilians killed since the start of the government campaign to retake areas held by Syrian rebel groups.  Furthermore, according to the United Nations, the fighting in southern Syria has displaced over 300,000 people since it first broke out on June 19th.  Over the weekend, the United Nations High Commission for Refugees predicted that some of these displaced people would begin to return to their homes in Deraa since the ceasefire agreement.

The temporary ceasefire that was agreed to on Friday, however, appears to be breaking down as the Syrian army and a Syrian rebel group have both accused one another of violating the peace settlement.  In an updated article published by Arwa Ibrahim in Al Jazeera, reports of government air strikes targeting rebel soldiers in southern Syria began to surface early Sunday morning.  Activists opposing the Assad regime report that at least four were killed in air strikes targeting the village of Um al-Mayadin which is situated about five kilometers north of the Jordanian border.  Furthermore, it was reported that Syrian forces had not left the four villages they had agreed to pull out of that had been outlined in the agreement.  An Al Jazeera source in Deraa also said that rebels in Um al-Mayadin have refused to surrender their weapons.

Ibrahim’s article also explains that fighting between rebels and the Syrian government have escalated in western Deraa.  The rebel groups involved in Sunday’s fighting are said to oppose the ceasefire deal.  These groups have also formed a larger coalition labeled as “the Southern Army” that consists of eleven other rebel groups.  The Southern Army released a call to arms across their social media outlets saying: “We call on all factions in the south to join our army in defending our land and dignity.”

As of right now, it is unclear how long the clashes in Deraa will continue and whether the peace agreements in the area will be enforced.  The many different actors involved in Syria’s Civil War make it difficult for ceasefire deals to be enforced.  The conflict has given rise to many different rebel groups all with varying political objectives.  While one faction may support a ceasefire, another might not.  Russia’s involvement as a third-party guarantor for Syria means rebel groups are less likely to achieve their given objectives.  As a result, more hardline rebels could be more likely to resume fighting.  At the same time, Russian brokered deals mean that Syrian government and pro-regime forces might feel less inclined to concede certain territories as Friday’s crippled ceasefire has illustrated.