In a rather peculiar move by Russian, Iran and Turkey, on Thursday, a deal was struck to help in the cessation of hostilities between the government of Syria and rebel forces. The war is now in its seventh year. The plan is aimed at the ending of clashes between forces loyal to the current president of Syria, Bashar Al-Assad and rebel groups in so-called “de-escalation zones” in mainly opposition-held areas of the war-ravished country. The three aforementioned countries, Russia, Turkey and Iran are to act as guarantors of the deal with their troops set to monitor compliance of the deal on the ground. The deal came into effect on Saturday. It is understood that no Syrian party has of yet signed the pact. The general assumption is that each of the countries will ensure compliance from the faction they support. That is to mean that Russia and Iran will make sure that President Bashar signs the deal while Turkey shall see to it that the rebels sign as well and comply.
What is in the deal?
The deal calls for the warring parties to halt the use of all kinds of weaponry in the designated areas in any form including flight and strikes by Syrian warplanes and air raids by the US-led coalition. This will allow humanitarian aid to reach the besieged areas that are otherwise inaccessible due to the conflict. It is estimated that 4.5 million people reside in these areas. Further, refugees will be allowed to return to these zones and infrastructure restored. Russia says that maps showing the zones shall be available on June 4. The four areas covered by the deal are:
- The Idlib province as well as some parts of Latakia, Aleppo and Hama province. The population estimate is 1 million people with rebel factions linked to Al-Qaeda.
- The Rastan and Talbiseh enclave in Homs province with an estimated 180,000 people. The rebels have ties to Al-Qaeda as well.
- Eastern Ghouta in the Damascus countryside with an estimated population of 690,000 people.
- Rebel-controlled south along the border with Jordan with the inclusion of parts of Deraa and Quneitra provinces. Population estimates are at 800,000 people.
The deal allows its guarantors to target ISIS and Al-Qaeda groups inside the safe zones while also making sure that the Syrian government is to allow “unhindered” aid to the war-ravished regions and to restore the infrastructure like electricity and water.
Alexander Fomin, Russia’s Deputy Defense Minister, said that the deal would allow for the separation of the opposition from ISIL fighters and those affiliated with Al-Qaeda if it was ever implemented. He did not elaborate how this would be achieved.
The Syrian government has agreed to abide by the deal but has explicitly said that it will continue to fight “terrorism” wherever it exists. Pentagon spokesman, Marine Maj, said that “The coalition will continue to target ISIS wherever they operate to ensure they have no sanctuary.” Osama Abo Zayd, a spokesman for the Syrian military groups at the Kazakhstan talks, said that it was “incomprehensible” for Iran to act as a guarantor. He said, “We can’t imagine Iran playing a role of peace.”
On so many levels, this deal is very peculiar. First of all, you would think that lessons have been learned from previous mistakes. Very recently, Turkey and Russia had a deal with the two warring parties to end the hostilities. The initial deal did not hold because of several reasons with both parties blaming the other party. Similarly, a lot of details in this deal are very vague. Already, there are doubts as to whether it will be implemented at all. This is in part due to the lack of a clear plan on how to make it happen. Aron Lund, a Syrian expert, said that this deal may help shape the future of the country. He said, “If or when it starts to crumble, it could also lead to destabilizing recriminations among the three signatories and their allies.” He also added that “While the deal is unlikely to end the Syrian conflict, it may help shape its future – for better and for worse.” He further argues that the one month delay in delineating the zones may derail this plan even before it sets foot.
Secondly, this deal does not take the obvious human nature into account. Do the guarantors really believe that lifelong enemies will simply lay down their arms in case they meet in these zones? The idea is ridiculous. There are too many bitter emotions for that now. Besides, how do these groups know where these zones begin or end? While on the map, it’s very easy to know this, but on the ground, the line is not even blurry, it is outright invisible. The idea is laughable. Lastly, how do the people move back to these zones after all the failed peace attempts? How do they trust Russia and Turkey, let alone Iran? Granted, they are desperate and could go back for the aid, but their faith in the deal is non-existent. They will be asking themselves how this time could be different from the previous times when they had been promised peace.
One gets the feeling that a lot of things are being concealed by the deal. As if there are some benefits to be gained by the three guarantors under the guise of a truce in these regions. In any case, it will all be clear in one month when the maps are available.
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