Ceasefire Begins in SyriaSeptember 13, 2016 in Syria
A nationwide seven-day ceasefire began in Syria on Monday 12 September after a weekend of air strikes, with the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reporting that it was mostly holding across the country at the start of its second day on Tuesday.
The monitoring body has reported that some air attacks and shelling were reported in the first hours of the truce on Monday evening, adding that incidents were reported in areas including the north Hama countryside, East Ghouta and north of Aleppo. This however appeared to die down, with the Observatory reporting that it had not recorded a single civilian death from fighting in the fifteen hours since the ceasefire came into effect at 7 PM (1600 GMT) on Monday.
The deal was rached late on Friday (9 September) in Geneva, after months of talks between Russia and the United States. It is the second attempt this year to halt Syria’s five-year-old civil war. Russia is a major backer of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, while the US supports some of the rebel groups that are fighting to topple him. Syrian state media has reported that President Bashar al-Assad has welcomed the deal. Under the plan, Syrian government forces will end combat missions in specified opposition-held areas. Russia and the US will then establish a joint centre to combat jihadist groups, including the so-called Islamic State (IS) group and Jabhat Fateh al-Sham (known until recently as the Nusra Front). The 10-day truce is due to be followed by co-ordinated US-Russian air strikes against jihadist militants.
Ahead of the ceasefire, the Syrian government carried out heavy airstrikes in several rebel areas over the weekend, killing about 100 people. Syrian activists have reported that Russian warplanes have also been in action in the provinces of Idlib and Aleppo. On Monday, the first day of the Eid al-Adha Muslim holiday, fighting had raged on several key fronts before the ceasefire, including in Aleppo and the southern provinces of Quneitra. The Observatory has disclosed that at least 31 people were killed by airstrikes on rebel-held Idlib province and eastern Damascus, and by bombardement of villages in the northern Homs countryside and rocket attacks in the city of Aleppo on Monday, before the truce began.
While the ceasefire appears to be holding on its second day, it currently remains unclear whether rebel factions will abide by it to the end. The Free Syrian Army group has written to the United States administration stating that while it would “co-operate positively” with the ceasefire, it was concerned that it would benefit the government. Another rebel group, the influential hardline Islamist Ahrar al-Sham, has rejected the deal. In a video statement, the group’s second-in-command, Ali al-Omar, stated, “a rebellious people who have fought and suffered for six years cannot accept half-solutions.” However the group’s commander stopped short of explicitly stating that it would not abide by its terms. If the truce does prove to hold, jihadist groups like IS and Jabhat Fateh al-Sham will face directly face the power of Russian and US air forces; moderate rebels and civilians in the areas that they hold will no longer face the threat of indiscriminate air strikes, such as barrel-bombing, however the Syrian air force will not be grounded completely; aid deliveries will be allowed to areas that are currently under siege; and President Assad will be in a stronger position as the US and Russia engage two of his most effective military opponents while moderate rebels observe the truce with his forces.
The conflict in Syria, which began with an uprising against President Assad, has now been going on for five years and has claimed the lives of more than a quarter of a million people. Millions have fled abroad, many of them seeking asylum in the European Union, but nearly 18 million people remain in Syria, which ahs been carved up by fighting between government and rebel forces.
Syria’s History of Failed Agreements
- February 2012 – Syrian government “categorically rejects” an Arab League plan, which calls for a joint Arab-UN peacekeeping mission.
- June 2012/January 2014/January 2016 – Three failed UN-sponsored peace conferences in Geneva.
- September 2013 – Kerry and Lavrov negotiate a deal to strip the Syrian government of its chemical weapons in return for the US backing away from air strikes. Since then, the government has again and repeatedly been accused of using toxic chemicals against rebel-held areas.
- February 2016 – World powers agree in Munich on a nationwide “cessation of hostilities” in Syria excluding jihadist groups. There is no agreement on any joint US-Russian operations. The “pause” quickly unravels as President Assad promises to regain control of the whole country.
- March 2016 – Russian President Vladimir Putin declared “mission accomplished” in Syria and orders the removal of “main part” of Russia’s air army in Syria. Russian air strikes however have continued ever since.