"Cessation of hostilities" foreseen as allowing emergency aid to suffering populations
Could there finally be light at the end of the dark tunnel of the Syrian civil war?
An agreement hammered out by the International Syria Support Group on Thursday would mark the first sustained and formally declared halt to fighting in Syria since the civil war began in 2011, The New York Times reported.
Secretary of State John Kerry and his Russian counterpart, Sergey V. Lavrov, announced that they had agreed on the delivery over the next few days of desperately needed aid to besieged Syrian cities, to be followed by a “cessation of hostilities” within a week on the way to a more formal cease-fire.
The news comes on the eve of a historic meeting in Cuba between Pope Francis and Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill I, who are due to issue a statement in support of persecuted Christians in the Middle East.
Any cease-fire at this point would be partial, as it would not apply to the terrorist organizations Islamic State and the Nusra Front, the report noted.
But Kerry, joining Lavrov at a news conference in Munich, Germany, said he envisions “a pause” a week from now, “ending hostile activity” so that emergency air drops of food can relieve some of the suffering in war-torn areas.
News that a plan to bring in food aid was welcomed across the board.
But Robert Nicholson, director of the Philos Project, an American nonprofit that seeks to promote positive Christian engagement in the Middle East, said the ceasefire “stands to be a mere lull in the storm.”
“The bad guys … have no reason to abide by it,” he said in an interview. “And as long as ISIS and the al Qaeda affiliates survive, there will be no peace in Syria.”
Further, he pointed out, the ceasefire only helps Assad consolidate his recent territorial gains and thereby strengthens the Assad-Iran-Russia axis.
“To the Sunnis in the region, it seems more obvious than ever that the US has abandoned them and is prepared to permit a full Shiite takeover of the Middle East,” said Nicholson, an expert in Middle Eastern history. “Even if it’s not true, it looks that way, which is why Saudi Arabia and other Sunni states are talking about entering the war themselves. The result is an ever-rising tension across the region as sectarianism feeds on itself.”
A career foreign service officer who did not want to be identified said in an interview that since Russian and Syrian forces are currently winning, Assad can begin to cooperate with the UN and other international actors and thereby increase his standing in the eyes of the international community.
“Assad is not going away,” he said. “Russia has turned things around and forced the U.S. and others to accept that a transition acceptable to Assad (well, Putin and Lavrov) must be negotiated, that is, Russian interests in the eastern Mediterranean will have to be accommodated in any final political settlement and transition to a post-Assad government.”
Kerry, in his comments at the press conference, insisted that a “political transition” in Syria is a prerequisite for peace.
“Ultimately the end of this conflict will only come when the parties agree on a plan for a political transition in accordance with the Geneva communique of 2012,” he said. “And we have no illusions about how difficult that is.”
The ISSG announcement said the group “reaffirmed that it is for the Syrian people to decide the future of Syria:”
The members of the ISSG pledge to do all they can to facilitate rapid progress in these negotiations, including the reaching of agreement within six months on a political transition plan that establishes credible, inclusive and non-sectarian governance and sets a schedule and process for drafting a new constitution, free and fair elections, pursuant to the new constitution, to be held within 18 months and administered under supervision of the United Nations, to the satisfaction of the governance and to the highest international standards of transparency and accountability, with all Syrians, including members of the diaspora, eligible to participate.