Monday,23 October, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1316, (20 - 26 October 2016)
Monday,23 October, 2017
Issue 1316, (20 - 26 October 2016)

Ahram Weekly

No results on Syria

Attempts at reaching a peace agreement on Syria in meetings in Lausanne and London this week came to naught, writes Bassel Oudat in Damascus

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Al-Ahram Weekly

As expected, the talks on Syria between US Secretary of State John Kerry and his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov as well as seven foreign ministers from the region – Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Qatar, Jordan and Egypt – failed this week.

The talks, held in the Swiss city of Lausanne, did not reach an agreement on a strategy to end the Syrian conflict, and after many promises to reach an understanding the foreign ministers of these countries were forced to admit defeat.

Russia insisted on its support for Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad, and officials emerged from the tense meeting to say only that they had agreed on “continuing consultations,” which in the world of diplomacy means they had not been able to agree on anything of substance.

One Western diplomat in Lausanne said that the meeting had not been well prepared and its goals were unclear. “The list of participants was finalised at the last minute,” he said. Another Western diplomat who had previously served in Syria added that “I don’t understand [why] the Americans asked the Russians for more talks. The Russians do not compromise.”

“Total failure in Lausanne. Now what,” asked Waleed Al-Boni, a member of the Syrian opposition. “Has Syria been handed over to Russia and Iran? Or is the goal to embroil these countries further in the Syrian quagmire, draining them at the cost of our blood and the fate of our nation?”

It was notable that the European states were absent from the meeting, though the French foreign minister said that Europe had views similar to those of the US and announced a further meeting in London.

This meeting, hosted by British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, following the failed Lausanne meeting, and European sources anticipated that alternatives would be discussed including possible joint European-US military actions and Turkish ideas that could facilitate a truce. However, the London meeting ended like dozens of others before it in failure.

Neither the Syrian opposition nor the regime were invited to the Lausanne or London meetings. According to Abdel-Ahad Astifo, deputy head of the Syrian opposition coalition, the absence of the Syrians at the meetings “further complicates matters.”

The common factor at all the meetings that have taken place since the Geneva Declaration of 2012 has been “the absence of Syrians and a US-Russian monopoly on all matters of importance. These talks have wasted time and bled the Syrian people dry,” he said.

“The Lausanne meeting, which Russia called for, ended without results. Then came the London meeting, which was a US initiative to discuss the tragic situation in Syria with the foreign ministers of France, Britain, Saudi Arabia and others, and the outcome was zero,” Mokhles Khattab, a Syrian opposition figure, told Al-Ahram Weekly.

“It’s as if they were children meeting here and there to decide what is almost impossible – a political solution to end the Syrian catastrophe for the sake of the country and its people.”

Russia, Europe and the US do not see eye-to-eye, and the gap is widening, especially after the Western powers accused Russia and the Al-Assad regime of committing war crimes by bombing hospitals, killing civilians, preventing medical evacuations and targeting an aid caravan in recent weeks.

French President François Hollande cancelled a trip by Russian President Vladimir Putin that was to have taken place to France this week, and the European countries presented a draft resolution to the UN Security Council that Russia vetoed. All this has triggered a war of words between the Europeans, the Americans and the Russians.

Meanwhile, the situation on the ground has been moving in a different direction. Russia has increased the number of its fighter jets in Syria and sent an aircraft carrier towards the country’s Mediterranean shores.

It has installed S-300 missiles and has said it will convert the Hmeimim airbase in Syria into a permanent Russian military base. It has also continued bombing East Aleppo which is controlled by the Syrian opposition.

Syrian opposition factions supported by Turkey clenched an important victory this week against Islamic State (IS) forces, with the help of Turkish jets and tanks. Euphrates Shield forces took control of the town of Dabiq, which is of great religious symbolism to the terrorist group, and they have begun preparations for the battle of Raqqa, a city IS uses as its capital in Syria.

Neither the Russians, the Kurds, the Syrian regime nor the Americans participated in this key victory against IS that paves the way for destroying the group in Syria. If this is accomplished, it will raise the stature of Turkey over a large swath of northern Syria.

In only four hours, the Syrian opposition supported by Turkey was able to take back control of Dabiq from IS, expelling the group from one of its strongholds which it had vowed would be a victorious episode in its battle with the West.

The US welcomed the victory, recognising Turkey for its role. Meanwhile, the Kurds were troubled by the victory and said they would need to participate in the forthcoming battle of Raqqa, a demand both Turkey and the Syrian opposition have rejected because the Kurds have separatist ambitions.

 “Three hundred Turkish soldiers, 20 tanks, and 5,000 combatants from the armed Syrian opposition routed IS in Jarablus and Dabiq, and soon in Al-Bab and Raqqa too,” Al-Boni said. “Why is this happening now, and why did it not happen three years ago?”

“Has IS played the role of a bogeyman, tarnishing the Syrian Revolution and mitigating the impact of the crimes of the Al-Assad regime? Does the Al-Nusra Front serve the same purpose,” he asked.

Rami Abdel-Rahman, director of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said that “what made it easy to take control of Dabiq was the withdrawal of IS. It has recently lost control of many towns and villages in the surrounding area. Dabiq has no strategic significance. It was only ever religiously symbolic for IS.”

Meanwhile, in Aleppo the Russian bombardment is continuing, but Russia seems to have started to lose hope in the operation. Despite heavy airstrikes with many types of weapons – phosphorous, cluster and concussion grenades – regime forces and their militia allies supported by Iran have been unable to make progress.

The Syrian regime no longer possesses combat forces capable of carrying out large-scale ground operations. It has lost a large number of its fighters and sidelined a portion of the regular army out of concerns over defections from the regular army. The majority of soldiers now come from opposition towns and villages that have been partially or completely destroyed.

Everyone is now a loser or a partial loser. Military, human and material attrition continue on all sides, but no side is willing to compromise. “We need a UN Security Council Resolution under Chapter Seven of the UN Charter,” said Mokhles Al-Khatib of the Syrian opposition.

“This would not be a betrayal of the homeland because right now it is ruled by Russian-Iranian and more recently Turkish forces. The UN Resolution that was imposed in Kosovo stopped the war and ended the conflict between Orthodox Christian Serbs and Sunni Muslim Albanians.”

“Syria is at war, and there is no hope of ending this through talks that have lasted for five years with no avail. It can only be stopped through a UN Resolution,” he said.

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