Thursday,23 May, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1285, (3 - 9 March 2016)
Thursday,23 May, 2019
Issue 1285, (3 - 9 March 2016)

Ahram Weekly

Cessation of hostilities?

The ceasefire agreement in Syria is welcome and long overdue, but it will not hold if Western powers continue pushing for Bashar Al-Assad to be removed, writes Hussein Haridy

Al-Ahram Weekly

On 26 February, the UN Security Council adopted Resolution 2268 on the cessation of hostilities in Syria, which went into force hours later. It was a great moment for international diplomacy and for the Security Council itself after five years of futile attempts to reach a ceasefire in Syria.

This resolution, along with Security Council Resolution 2254, adopted on 18 December 2015, embodies a hard-won international consensus on a ceasefire in Syria that has been long overdue.

The two resolutions could not have been adopted without a partial entente between the United States and Russia.

These two powers are the ones who should now work together to make sure that the cessation of hostilities will hold and pave the way for negotiations, or proximity talks, between the Syrian government and the opposition in Syria on the terms and finality of the process of political transition in Syria. This process is spelled out in Security Council Resolution 2254.

The cessation of hostilities provides a golden chance for the parties involved in the Syrian crisis to extricate Syria, on the one hand, and themselves on the other from a quagmire that, if unsolved, would undoubtedly consume everyone. Hours after the ceasefire went into effect, the Russian Reconciliation Centre in Syria announced, “The ceasefire regime in Syria is being implemented.”

However, the Russian Ministry of Defence highlighted an overnight attack on the town of Tal Abyad on the Syrian-Turkish border. The chief of the Russian Reconciliation Centre said that the activities of armed groups were supported by artillery fire from the Turkish army. He had earlier spoken of at least one hundred fighters belonging to terrorist groups that crossed the border after the ceasefire went into effect.

Russian military sources said that Damascus was shelled six times on Saturday, 27 February, from territory controlled by “moderate” rebels. According to the same sources, Syrian troops had not returned fire at the request of Moscow.

US President Barack Obama convened a meeting for the National Security Council on 28 February in which he made clear that the days after the commencement of the cessation of hostilities would be crucial for Syria. He warned both Moscow and Damascus that the world would be watching to see whether they honour their commitments under the cessation of hostilities agreement. He held both capitals responsible for the success or failure of this agreement that is destined to save Syria from “chaos”, as he put it.

Appearing before the Senate Appropriations Committee on Foreign Operations on 24 February, US Secretary of State John Kerry said, with a less optimistic tone, “I can’t sit here and tell you I know this is going to work, but I know this: if it does not work, the potential is there that Syria will be utterly destroyed, that Europe will be flooded with even more migrants ... that the unrest and dislocation will become an even worse in what is already the greatest humanitarian challenge since World War II.”

He continued, “We need to make certain that we are exploring and exhausting every option of diplomatic resolution.” He added that the United States hopes that in the days to come “we can make this cessation of hostilities work, get to the table, where we will test the seriousness of Russia and Iran and others to find a political solution that provides Syria with a road ahead without [Syrian President Bashar] Al-Assad, because you can’t end the war with him.”

 Needless to say, this position on the future of the Syrian president flies in the face of the Vienna Statements of 18 October 2015 and 14 November 2015, which speak about a political transition that is Syrian-led and Syrian-owned. Kerry himself reflected this idea when he said, at a joint press conference with the Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi in Washington, on 24 February, “We believe very deeply that it is time for all parties to facilitate the full implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 2254, including, ultimately, the political transition that respects the rights and the needs and the wishes of the people of Syria.”

Nothing in Security Council Resolution 2254 speaks of the future of President Al-Assad. The problem with the American position in this regards, as well as similar positions among America’s allies and partners, is that if they are going to work indirectly to reach such an end while claiming that they respect the cessation of hostilities agreement, there is no hope for this agreement to hold, or for the hoped-for political transition to be reached.

I do not want to sound like a doomsayer, but what Kerry warned against — the destruction of Syria if this opportunity is wasted — will probably come to pass. That would run counter to the interests of all stakeholders in Syria, including the United States.

Let the Syrian people elect their president in fair and free elections under the supervision of the United Nations, without interference from outside powers. If everyone who signed up on the cessation of hostilities in Syria is really serious about saving not only Syria, but also the Arab world and Europe from insecurity, unrest and ever-expanding terrorism, this needs to happen.


The writer is former assistant to the foreign minister.


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