Sunday,21 October, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1361, (21 - 27 September 2017)
Sunday,21 October, 2018
Issue 1361, (21 - 27 September 2017)

Ahram Weekly

Tears in the Syrian opposition

The Astana Conference on the crisis in Syria concluded by driving ever-larger wedges through the country’s opposition, writes Bassel Oudat in Damascus


Tears in the Syrian opposition
Tears in the Syrian opposition

اقرأ باللغة العربية

The sixth round of the Astana Conference on the crisis in Syria ended last week with conclusions on three main principles.

Conference sponsors Russia, Iran and Turkey agreed that the ceasefire zones in four regions of Syria would last for six months and could be extended subject to agreement. This means the ceasefires cannot be seen as a solution to the Syrian crisis or an end to the war in the country.

The conference sponsors, the regime led by Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad and the representatives of the opposition set aside the 2012 Geneva Declaration based on the formation of a transitional governing body with a full mandate as a way of ending the crisis.

They also said that the city of Idlib would be included in a de-escalation zone and troops would be deployed to monitor the ceasefire to prevent clashes between regime and opposition forces. Joint Russian-Iranian-Turkish military coordination centres would be set up for this purpose.

However, the Astana meeting marginalised the key issue for the opposition – the negotiations between the opposition and the regime in search of a political solution.

It made cooperation between regime forces and the opposition a top priority by forcing an agenda outlined by the Astana sponsors that serves the regime’s interests and assists it in moving troops from truce regions to take control of other regions in eastern and northern Syria.

Such moves are consistent with statements by UN envoy to Syria Staffan de Mistura to the effect that the opposition “must realise” it cannot win the war against the regime. The statements caused some to demand de Mistura’s resignation, especially since they coincided with a UN report stating that the regime was responsible for attacks using chemical weapons in the Syrian town of Khan Shaykhun in April.

In the report, UN investigators said the Syrian regime has been responsible for a sarin gas attack on Khan Shaykhun that killed 87 people. De Mistura’s statements diverted attention away from the report, which confirms that the regime still possesses chemical weapons that were not handed over as required by UN Security Council Resolution 2118.

De Mistura is known for statements favouring the regime and implying that the opposition has been defeated. These contradict his position as a broker in the negotiations, making it look as if the regime has the upper hand.

“What happened in Astana was a choice between a slow and a quick death,” said Ahmed Rahal, an opposition analyst. “The solution is for all revolutionaries to meet and say no to these plans to undermine the revolution and empower the Al-Assad regime.”

“We support de-escalation agreements as long as they lead to a comprehensive ceasefire and the final goal is the political solution we were looking for in Geneva, namely the transition of power from despotism to democracy. We are worried about surrendering these areas to the regime and agreements reached through threats instead of a commitment to a political transition.”

A spokesman for the opposition Higher Negotiations Committee (HNC) that represents the political opposition and was not present at the Astana Conference said there were problems about deploying military monitors from third countries.

“Turkey can play a role in imposing security in Idlib. However, the Russians support the regime and have been defending it against its own people. The Iranians are the enemies of the Syrian people and are absolutely unacceptable as guarantors of any agreement,” the spokesman said. “The best solution is a political one.”

Member of the opposition Samir Nashar described the Astana Conference as “disgraceful”.

“Some Astana delegates have been trying to justify their positions by agreeing to a shameful agreement that legitimises the occupation of Idlib by three foreign countries. This will be a prelude to forming reconciliation committees between the residents and the revolutionaries and the regime,” Nashar said.

 “This will lead to accepting Al-Assad’s remaining in power as part of a solution sought by Russia, Iran and Turkey. They are trying to overturn the Riyadh Conference that said that Al-Assad had no role to play once the transition phase begins. They want to force the HNC to follow the Astana Conference or overthrow it and form a new negotiating body.”

 “The opposition that went to Astana must demand that Russia, Iran and regime forces stop the killing and the bombing. They must implement UN Security Council Resolution 2254, the Geneva I Declaration and UN Security Council Resolution 2118 which lay the groundwork for the political transition,” Nashar said.

Meanwhile, the opposition interim government announced the creation of a Defence Ministry headed by the interim prime minister, putting him in command of more than 44 military factions even though the government had previously complained it was short of funds.

Some Syrian opposition figures had hoped that these factions would unite under one banner, while others believe this is necessary for them to succeed.

At the end of the Astana Conference no progress has been made on a political solution. Differences widened between the opposition that did not participate and the military opposition that was represented at the meeting, driving a larger wedge between them.

Some of those opposing the regime say that those who went to Astana, mostly Islamist military groups, betrayed the revolution when they took up arms five years ago and destroyed its peaceful principles.

They betrayed it a second time when they put down their weapons and agreed to do as the Russians and Iranians wanted, such opposition figures say.

The Syrian crisis is getting worse, with differences between the opposition and the regime as wide as ever and differences within the opposition itself causing it to disintegrate. It is this that successive meetings of the Astana Conference have achieved in six rounds of talks sponsored by Russia, Iran and Turkey, while the US and the Arabs have remained missing.

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