The US-Russia plan for a “cessation of hostilities” in Syria, endorsed by the UN Security Council on Friday 26 February kicked off in the early hours of Saturday and two days after is still more or less observed. Understandably the cease-fire may collapse at any moment but the US and Russia seem determined to keep it alive. The truce doesn’t include the Islamic State and the Nusra Front controlled by al Qaeda. Damascus forces under President Bashar al-Assad and his foes, the various rebel groups, have largely stopped the hostilities.
However, the Kurdish People’s Protection Units of YPG and their adversary Turkey both said they will abide by the UN resolution to stop fighting, but they will respond by force to any breach of the Security Council resolution. It goes without saying that the US and Russian air raids have stopped except when it comes to bombing the jihadist forces.
Rather too late for the people
Alas, it’s rather too late for Syria, a country that has actually ceased to exist, with the various conflicting forces having dissolved and partitioned it and now fighting for some more square miles of land. After five years of hostilities more than 11 million are homeless and almost six million of Syrians have abandoned their countries. They have been seeking refuge in the neighboring countries the Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey, with more than one million of them having reached Europe through the Greek islands and the Balkan corridor. Another five million are thought to be refugees in their own country trying to avoid fighting and famine.
This newspaper has extensively covered the Syrian issue, but this is not the time to analyze who is to blame for turning the ‘Arab spring’ peaceful protests for democracy in Damascus and the other major cities of the country, into an inferno of deadly civil war. At this point is much more important to assess the weight of the US-Russia plan for the “cessation of hostilities”.
Turkey: The reluctant ally
As expected, the Islamic State fighters would try to undermine the cease-fire in which they are not participating. Understandably, the US – Russia plan foresees that the butchers of the hard-line Sunni ISIS will continue to be fought until they are totally extinct. In this context, last Saturday morning, the ISIS militants attacked a town near the Turkish borders held by the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia. Their purpose was obviously to implicate the Turkish forces against the Kurds, given that Ankara is clearly looking for opportunities to attack the Kurds.
However, the US coalition war planes swiftly came to help the Kurds with at least 10 air strikes. This was also a reminder to Ankara that the American forces implicated in the Syrian fighting consider the Kurds as their close ally. It seems that this was necessary because during the last few weeks the Turkish air forces have been hitting the Kurdish positions everywhere in Syria. The Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has repeatedly provoked the US to decide on which side they are, Turkey’s or her enemies the Kurds.
The Americans are now convinced
In any case, the Americans seem finally convinced that apart from the Kurds, on the Syrian soil there are no other effective and determined foes of ISIS. The same is true for Assad but he is under Moscow’s spell. The various rebel groups that Turkey and Saudi Arabia have been backing for years in the Syrian civil war are either neutral or even cooperate closely with the Islamic State and the Nusra Front.
All of them have only one common cause, to extinguish the Bashar al-Assad regime and together with it the entire Alawite population of Syria which numbers some three million people. Alawites are a small sect of the Shia Islam. That’s why the Shia followers of the Lebanon Hezbollah and the Iranian government have been very decisively and successfully helping Assad and his Alawites. This proves then that it’s impossible to extinguish an entire people of three million and Russia made sure that this will not be the case.
Assad: A part of the solution
In view of this reality, it seems that Washington finally was forced to come to terms with Moscow and accept that the President Bashar al-Assad and the part of the population he stands for cannot be absent from the final arrangement. Russia has been insisting about that since the very beginning of the hostilities and Vladimir Putin had made it quite clear that he will not abandon Assad to the be slaughtered by the Sunni militias.
Apparently, the Americans also had to consider the views of their closest allies in the Syrian issue, the French. After the Charlie Hebdo massacre of January 2015 and the bloody Paris attacks of last November that left 130 people dead and hundreds wounded, the French government along with other Europeans understood that there was no other way to deal with ISIS and the other jihadist forces than total war. Seemingly, the Americans are now also convinced of that and understood that Turkey and Saudi Arabia cannot be trusted in this affair.
Turkey and Saudi Arabia forced into the deal
Towards the same direction, the newcomer in the world affairs Tehran pressed Paris and Washington to respect the rights of the Syrian millions of Alawites. The result was that the US had to come to terms with the other elephant in the room which is Russia. Understandably, the Americans didn’t like it at all but it seems that the US presses on with its foreign policy plans to their limits, but when those limits appear insurmountable Washington appears ready to compromise.
This is what is now happening in Syria. Undoubtedly, the final arrangement will comprise Assad leading his Alawite compatriots and the Kurds in the north. As for the truce, it holds well despite some isolated incidents that do not alter the overall positive picture. In any case, there is every indication that it will lead to the negotiations table under the UN Syria envoy Staffan de Mistura.