Creating momentum to open the door to peace in Syria

Wednesday, 2020-05-20 16:07:09
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NDO – The United Nations Security Council recently held an online session on Syria, hoping to take advantage of the current stable situation to create momentum for the political process in the Middle Eastern country.

The international community called for a ceasefire, asking stakeholders, including Russia and the US, to promote dialogue to help open the door to peace for Syria.

The Special Envoy of the UN Secretary General for Syria, Geir Pedersen, said that the situation in northwestern Syria - a “hot spot” of fighting - has become relatively stable since a truce was brokered by Russia and Turkey. Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced a joint document in Moscow, agreeing to temporarily halt fighting, create a safe corridor 6km north and 6km south of Idlib province’s key M4 motorway, and conduct joint patrols along the main road located about 30km south of Turkey’s borders and passing through Aleppo and Latakia cities in Idlib, Syria. However, there have unfortunately been several small skirmishes, notably a recent attack by an extremist group which killed some Syrian soldiers. Meanwhile, the self-proclaimed Islamic State (IS) has shown signs of increased operation in eastern Syria.

One of the current international efforts capable of changing the status quo in Syria, towards a peaceful solution, is the “handshake” between Russia and the US. UN Special Envoy Pedersen hoped that the US and Russia would dismiss disagreements and reach a consensus on a solution to the Syrian crisis. Previously, US Special Representative for Syria, James Jeffrey expressed optimism about chances of a restoration of US-Russia cooperation and working out ways to solve the Syrian issue, in the context of different approaches to the problem between the two sides. Russia has constantly affirmed its support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime and takes the view that the future of Syria should be decided by its people. Meanwhile, the US has supported the opposition in Syria, strongly backing the Kurdish forces.

Recently, there have been collisions between Russian and US forces in Syria. Russian forces blocked a US patrol team from entering a strategic city in Al-Hasakah province in northeastern Syria, after a Russian convoy was blocked by US troops in Al-Hasakah’s Al-Qahtaniyah town. Moscow has set up a permanent operational group on the Mediterranean with the mission of preventing threats to Russia’s security. A US spy plane, meanwhile, was said to have recently conducted a reconnaissance mission near the coast of Syria, where Russia’s Hmeimim military base is located in the city of Latakia. These moves indicate that it is hard to see a real “handshake” between Russia and the US as there remains a conflict of interest between the two sides.

Unrest and fighting in Syria have entered their 10th year, thereby creating one of the most serious humanitarian crises in history. UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet has accused the IS and other factions in Syria of using the COVID-19 pandemic to intensify violence aimed at civilians, while describing the situation as a “time bomb”. The UN receives reports of bombings and murders of civilians every day, including attacks in densely populated areas. Violence increased in April as statistics showed that at least 35 civilians were killed in explosions. Since March, there have been 33 attacks using self-made explosive devices in Syria, 26 of which took place in residential areas and seven in markets.

The UN has urged the parties concerned to maintain stable security to facilitate the political process in Syria based on the UN Security Council’s Resolution 2254. Countries have also expressed their support for a political solution, in which the stakeholders continue maintaining their exchange of ideas and cooperation to be ready to return to the negotiating table within the framework of the Syrian Constitutional Committee. Although violent incidents still persist, the situation of the Syrian battlefield has now “cooled down”, creating conditions to facilitate peaceful solutions. The important thing is whether the factions that play an important role in the Syrian political process really want to take advantage of the current favourable conditions to promote dialogue or still remain motivated by self-interest.