Syria’s ceasefire holds but mistrust prevails

Sunday 18/09/2016
Cessation of hostilities result­ed in significant drop in violence

BEIRUT - The second major ceasefire in Syria’s five-and-a-half-year war, which went into force September 12th un­der a US-Russia deal, ap­pears to be a test of trust between the two powers and breathing space for the fighting parties to boost their positions on the battlefield.
The cessation of hostilities result­ed in a significant drop in violence across the country, despite viola­tions that each side blamed on the other. The most serious breach oc­curred September 16th with fierce battles between government troops and opposition forces in Damas­cus’s eastern neighbourhoods of Qaboun and Jobar.
If the ceasefire holds for seven consecutive days, the relatively peaceful situation is expected to set the ground for unprecedented coordination between Moscow and Washington in their fight against jihadist groups and could open the door to new UN-sponsored peace talks.
Under the ceasefire agree­ment, all attacks are to stop ex­cept those targeting the Islamic State (ISIS) and al-Qaeda-linked militants, including Jabhat Fateh al-Sham.
Observers fear that the deal, which has to be renewed eve­ry 48 hours, will be particu­larly difficult to implement in areas where Jabhat Fateh al-Sham has formed alliances with local rebels. The first major truce earlier this year soon started to fray and then totally collapsed.
The moderate opposition backed by Washington has yet to accept the deal, complaining that it was still waiting for details. Syrian President Bashar Assad, who agreed to halt the fighting for a week, has vowed to recover all the land he lost in the war.
“The truce agreement is a veiled attempt for procrastination that will give government forces time to re­arrange their ranks and try to make up for the territory they had lost especially in northern rural Hama,” said Monzer Makhous, spokesman for the Syrian opposition High Ne­gotiations Committee.
Mistrust is also evident between Moscow and Washington, which ac­cused each other of failing to meet obligations under the still unclear truce terms.
With the ceasefire designed to pause the Syrian civil war long enough for the United States and Russia to focus air strikes on Islamic extremists taking advantage of the chaos in the embattled country, there are fears the Kurds could be targeted if they do not comply.
“If the Kurds do not abide by the US instructions, confrontation will be inevitable between them and the Free Syrian Army in Manbij (north­ern Syria),” one opposition source in the northern region said.
With details of the deal still not made public, Russian Deputy For­eign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov confirmed Assad’s future is “purely Syrian business” and the US-Rus­sian agreement does not deal with it.