Vol. XL No. 39 September 25, 2016

No Respite in Syria

YET another ceasefire attempt has fallen through in Syria. After protracted negotiations the US secretary of state John Kerry and the Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov had announced a ceasefire agreement to come into force from September 12. It was also announced that both sides had decided that if the ceasefire is successful, the US and Russia would launch joint military operations against the Islamic State and the Al Nasra.

Within three days of the ceasefire taking effect, reports of violations by the opposition forces were reported. On the other hand, Syrian government was accused of not giving permission for aid convoys bound for Eastern Aleppo which was subsequently given.

A deadly blow to the ceasefire occurred on September 17 when US led coalition air strikes struck at Syrian government military positions at the Dier Ezzor airport killing 62 government soldiers and wounding 90 others. Russia denounced the incident and accused the United States of deliberately jeopardiSing the ceasefire. The effect of the US air strikes was to help the IS forces who were trying to capture the airport and the city.

The Syrian government has since called off the ceasefire accusing the Islamist opposition forces of refusing to end hostilities and continuous violations.

Following on the heels of the US air strikes, a UN aid convoy to Aleppo was attacked in which many trucks were destroyed and 20 aid workers and civilians killed. The United States and its western allies have blamed Russia and the Syrian government for this incident while hypocritically maintaining that the attack on the Syrian soldiers was a mistake.

There is an orchestrated attempt to make this incident involving the aid convoy as the pretext for the failure of the ceasefire. The United States, France and the UK hope to distract attention from the act of criminal aggression committed by the US coalition forces against the legitimate government of Syria.

There are well-founded suspicions that the US and allied air strikes in Dier Ezzor were engineered to sabotage the agreement for joint military operations between the US and Russia. A strong section of the Pentagon and the security establishment of the US are against any cooperation with Russia on Syria and are still harping on the removal of the Assad government.

The Obama administration is caught between its recognition about the realities of the Syrian situation where with the support of Russia the Assad government has consolidated its position and is on the verge of taking over the rebel held parts of Aleppo and other key centers, whereas on the other side the whole range of Islamic extremist forces fighting the civil war are backed by its allies like Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey.

Turkey, on its part has sent its armed forces into Syria with the aim of clearing both the IS and Kurdish militias from the bordering areas and establishing the Turkish supported Islamist forces in a sort of buffer zone. The US has warily decided to go along with this intrusion into Syrian sovereignty. The Turkish ploy has added to the complex interplay of rival interests in the internal conflict raging in Syria which has now entered its sixth year.

There is no respite for the Syrian people who are being mercilessly ground down by the horrific warfare from all sides. President Obama has few options left in Syria. In the last few months of his presidency can he make a determined effort to renew the agreement with Russia and to proceed to make a joint effort to stop the fighting which can pave the way for a political settlement?

(September 21, 2016)