Syria Ceasefire Set to Begin despite Doubts

Photo Credit: AFP

On Monday, September 12, a 10-day ceasefire is set to begin in Syria, followed by joint U.S.-Russia air strikes on jihadist militants. Secretary of State John Kerry spoke with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in Geneva, Switzerland, in the hopes that this plan would “reduce violence, ease suffering, and resume movement towards a negotiated peace and a political transition in Syria.”

This comes after an announcement that President Bashar al-Assad agreed to the terms of the deal, which was originally negotiated in June between the United States and Russia. Syrian opposition forces have voiced their concern over the terms of the deal, particularly over perceived benefits the Syrian government may reap. In a video statement translated by the BBC, Ali al-Omar of the rebel group Ahrar al-Sham lamented the hard-fought war many other rebels have endured, and that, “[We] cannot accept half solutions.”

The truce states that the Syrian government will stop its assault of particular opposition-controlled areas in the country. Once the ceasefire has passed, Foreign Minister Lavrov expressed an interest in resuming talks over the future of Syria, emphasizing that “the negotiations must be inclusive, with participation of all the sides in [Syria].”

The goal of the ceasefire, according to Secretary Kerry, is that rebel groups associated with the Al-Nusra Front will be convinced to separate from targets of these coalition attacks. The issue at hand, according to NPR analyst Alice Fordham, is that “the agreement sits on a foundation of profound mistrust and comes after a similar effort, introduced in February, gradually fell apart.” She explains that the opposition is skeptical of a truce with the Russians, stating that “is difficult for a number of reasons, including the fact that the [U.S. and Russia] don’t agree on what constitutes an extremist.” BBC Middle East analyst Jeremy Bowen echoes these concerns, noting that, “[Opposition forces] range from groups supported by the Americans and their allies to ones that have had links with al-Qaeda.”

In other news, on September 7, a group consisting of various moderate opposition parties put forth a plan for “committing the country to democratic and religious pluralism.” The plan went through the High Negotiations Committee (HNC) which seeks to oust Assad from power. The HNC’s plan proposes a three-phase solution consisting of six-month negotiations, an 18-month transitional period, and a new constitution. Regarding the role the United States and Russia may play in this plan, HNC Spokesman Salem al-Meset stressed the need for the two countries to cooperate on the peace process.