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Next Few Days Critical to Success of Syrian Cease-fire

  • Pamela Dockins

The overall success of a fragile cease-fire in Syria will largely depend on the steps taken by the major stakeholders in the conflict over the next few days, say analysts monitoring the crisis.

On Saturday, the Syrian regime and rebels launched an initial two-week cessation of hostilities under a plan facilitated by the 17-nation International Syria Support Group.

On Monday, U.N. Secretary General Ban-Ki Moon acknowledged there had been “some incidents” but said the pause in fighting was largely holding.

Fighters from the Democratic Forces of Syria walk outside a prison which, according to them, belonged to Islamic State fighters, in al-Shadadi town, in Hasaka province, Syria Feb. 26, 2016.

Fighters from the Democratic Forces of Syria walk outside a prison which, according to them, belonged to Islamic State fighters, in al-Shadadi town, in Hasaka province, Syria Feb. 26, 2016.

The motivation of the Syrian opposition and of the Syrian regime, which is backed by Russia and Iran, to continue the cessation will largely depend on the pace of efforts to resume peace talks between the government and the opposition, said Steven Heydemann via Skpe. Heydemann is a Middle East policy analyst at the Brookings Institution.

Syrian children walk between destroyed buildings in the old city of Homs, Syria, Feb. 26, 2016.

Syrian children walk between destroyed buildings in the old city of Homs, Syria, Feb. 26, 2016.

“It is very important that we pay close attention, over the coming weeks, to the efforts of the U.N. special envoy Staffan de Mistura, to put the political process back on track,” said Heydemann.

“If he is not able to get that moving within the next few days,” he said, “that will be reflected in the pace at which the ceasefire begins to collapse.”

De Mistura has set a tentative March 7 date for the resumption of talks on a political transition.

Cease-fire benefits regime

An initial round of proximity talks between the regime and the opposition bogged down in early February, partly due to opposition complaints about the Russian-backed Syrian government’s relentless bombing campaign on opposition groups that were part of the talks.

Heydemann said the parties involved in the conflict also needed to use this time to craft a plan of what to do when cease-fire violations are encountered.

He said if the issue remains unresolved, the key players in the conflict would perceive that they could violate the cease-fire agreement “with impunity.”

Analysts also say the cessation, as it currently stands, benefits the Syrian regime and its backers more than the opposition.

“It allows them to consolidate their gains and undertake other measures to neuter the opposition,” said Adam Ereli, a foreign policy expert and vice chairman of the Mercury public strategy firm.

“It gives the opposition some time to breathe,” said Ereli, “but remember they are incredibly divided.”

Looking into violations

U.S. officials have welcomed the overall reduction of fighting in Syria but say they want a review of claims that there were some initial violations of the truce.

“We are going to watch this very, very closely,” said State Department spokesman John Kirby.

“What you really want here is zero [reports of cease-fire violations] unless it is against [Jabhat al-] Nusra and ISIL,” he said.

Officials say if the truce holds, it could be an initial step towards a conflict that has left more than 400,000 dead according to some reports and millions displaced.

“It could be a first step to the end of the civil war and the suffering of the Syrian people,” said Defense Secretary Ash Carter.

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