For a brief moment last week, the situation in Syria seemed to mildly improve. At the International Syria Support Group meeting, a range of Middle Eastern countries, the EU, the U.S., Russia and China agreed to start sending humanitarian aid to regions most ravaged by the war, and to “elaborate modalities for a nationwide cessation of hostilities” within a week. But the vision of better things to come did not last long. Major inequities within the fragile agreement failed the purpose of the talks, serving only to renew hostilities and create another tragic example of the complex and multifaceted nature of the Syrian conflict. Those across the world who have cried out for a resolution in Syria, including students at NYU who have rallied to put an end to the injustice, should remain vigilant for half-hearted promises.
Shortly after the announcement of a cessation of hostilities, Russian airplanes again flew over Aleppo to continue the aerial bombardment that preceded the talks. Upholding the charade employed throughout the conflict, Russian diplomats claimed only to attack Jabhat al-Nusra — an al-Qaeda affiliate — and ISIS, two groups excluded from the proposed ceasefire. Anti-government rebels hit by the strikes were further enraged. And regardless of their true targets, the Russians took advantage of the shaky agreement to continue their attacks; indeed Russia seems to interpret the one-week buffer till the cessation of hostilities as an opportunity to absolutely solidify the position of pro-regime forces.
The prospect of a lasting agreement seems even more remote after Russia’s foreign minister remarked that the proposed ceasefire implementation held only a 49 percent chance of success, and the declaration by Assad that a ceasefire did not mean the termination of weapon use and the bombings of five hospitals on Monday. When supposed negotiating partners claim a step for peace as an excuse for violence, something has gone awry. Adding to the chaos, tensions between other factions rose after Friday’s meeting as airstrikes struck rebel forces near Aleppo. Syrian Kurdish fighters attempted to expand their territory, angering Turkey, which reacted by shelling the Kurds. Despite the current prominence of the Kurds and past strength of the rebels, these groups were excluded from the talks and so were always left to fend for themselves, another major weakness of the agreement.
Although presented as positive developments and movements towards ending the war, agreements that neglect to consider prominent parties in the conflict and their complex relations, only serve to prolong violence. Iran, Russia and Syria possess the ability to control military developments — and thereby negotiations — but though this alliance maintains a disproportionate amount of leverage for diplomatic discussions, it hardly has control over the entire agenda of talks. Major anti-Assad factions and other groups were left out of negotiations from the outset, including the Kurds. Without accounting for the major factions involved in the conflict, and making sure agreements are enforced in good faith, negotiations for peace will only serve as ammunition for war.
Email Daniel Moritz-Rabson at [email protected]