Sunday,17 February, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1364, (12 - 18 October 2017)
Sunday,17 February, 2019
Issue 1364, (12 - 18 October 2017)

Ahram Weekly

Syria becomes surreal

Unlikely alliances and obscure deals are rendering the political and military situation in Syria more and more surreal, writes Bassel Oudat in Damascus


اقرأ باللغة العربية

After some relatively calm summer months, the situation in Syria has been heating up once again, with events propelling the conflict in the country to the forefront of the regional and international agenda. The situation on the ground has also changed, indicating that countries with interests in the Syrian crisis are seeking to divide the country rather than resolve its problems.

The sixth round of the Astana Talks in the Kazakh capital ended in September without results, calling into question the talks themselves which are now planned to begin again in October. The talks have not had the importance that their Russian sponsors had hoped, and they cannot be the means of solving the Syrian crisis.

At the UN General Assembly in New York in September, French President Emmanuel Macron said the negotiations pursued by Moscow, Tehran and Ankara in Astana were “not enough.” The solution to the crisis in Syria must be found “under UN auspices,” he said.

For the US, “rebuilding Syria will primarily rely on the political process… focused on Geneva and the role of the UN.” The Astana Talks could not be a substitute for this process, it said, indicating that Washington believes the Astana “de-escalation” agreements imposed by Russia on the armed Syrian opposition groups are also without value.

For many observers, the Astana Talks cannot be the path to solving the Syrian crisis because their Russian sponsors are not objective and are in any case intervening militarily in the country on behalf of the regime led by Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad.

They have divided Syria into spheres of influence under which Turkey has been allowed to enter Idlib in the north of the country, dashing the hopes of the opposition forces of connecting together the areas under their control. Russia has also allowed Iran to expand its influence around Damascus in order to silence it about Turkey’s share.

The ceasefires and “de-escalation zones” brokered by the Astana sponsors of Russia, Iran and Turkey have not lasted, unlike the truce in southern Syria imposed by the US in partnership with Russia. This is a sign of the flimsiness of the Astana outcomes and the power of US decisions.

The Syrian regime has violated the Astana truce agreements by using its air power in several ceasefire zones. The Russians have not de-escalated either, but instead have bombed many areas covered by the truces. All this has put pressure on the armed opposition forces, enabling the Syrian regime and its militias to gain more ground.

Russia wants to see the Geneva I Declaration of 2012 calling for the formation of a transitional governing body with full powers cancelled because this would prevent the Syrian regime from monopolising power and end its political and military control.

This month it attempted to insert a Russian platform into the Syrian opposition Higher Negotiations Committee (HNC), putting pressure on regional countries to accept this new fait accompli. The Syrian opposition is undecided between refusing to join Moscow’s platform and bending to the wind since Moscow calls the shots at the Astana Talks.

The Syrian opposition is trying to resist Russian pressure to join its camp, postponing a meeting in Riyadh where the HNC will meet to prepare for the upcoming talks in Geneva at the end of October. Sources in the opposition said these talks had been discussed during recent meetings between the Saudi monarch and Russian president in Moscow.

Meanwhile, all eyes have been on Deir Al-Zor in eastern Syria since this is a strategic area because of its location and oil and gas wealth. It has been heavily bombarded by the International Coalition, the Russian air force and Iranian troops and militias with a view to driving out hundreds of Islamic State (IS) group fighters.

However, the violence and haphazard nature of the attacks have threatened a confrontation between Russia and the US, making it seem that the real goal is to take control of this rich eastern province.

Another event at the end of the month was the mobilisation of Turkish troops and equipment near the Syrian border to prepare for the entrance into Idlib. A Turkish military contingent subsequently arrived in Idlib, occupied by Al-Nusra Front fighters, to decide on the areas in which Turkish troops would be deployed.

According to reports, the Turkish troops will rely on Syrian Euphrates Shield troops that it has trained in the past.

The opposition Free Syria Army and Euphrates Shield forces are welcoming the Turkish troops to Idlib, since these will protect them from both Russian air strikes and the Al-Nusra Front. Turkey, however, says the troops will move under Russian air cover, and the earlier Turkish contingent even arrived under the protection of the Al-Nusra Front.

Meanwhile, the Al-Assad regime has demanded the closure of the border with Turkey because the latter supports the armed opposition. However, at the same time Damascus supports the Iranian-Russian deal allowing Turkey to enter Syria in order to fight terrorism.

The Russians have accused the US of supporting IS, even though Washington has been fighting the group for two years as its sole declared policy in Syria while working to divide the country and encircle the revolutionary forces through its indirect support for the regime. This has been the case even though the US is a leading member of the Friends of Syria Group supposedly in favour of overthrowing that same regime.

This is a war of all against all, with actors willing to cooperate only in order to serve their own interests. It is a surreal situation that shows the contempt for the Syrian people held by the international and regional actors.

There is a Syrian regime that has committed war crimes and crimes against humanity in order to remain in power; a terrorist group claiming to want an “Islamic State” when its actions suggest the opposite; an impotent political opposition sponsored by countries that are unable to act; and a military opposition consisting largely of warlords.

What is happening in Syria today is almost unprecedented in the history of warfare. In the face of this absurdity, the real losers are the Syrian people.

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