Peace not possible with Assad cease-fire breaches

Yunus Paksoy 2017-01-08 13:00:00

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The world read the promising news before New Year’s Eve that a cease-fire was established after Turkey and Russia guaranteed that the Syrian opposition and the brutal Bashar al-Assad regime would not fight each other.

However, there have been dozens of cease-fire breaches by the Assad regime. Even though there is no terrorist group in the Barada valley region, Assad’s air forces have been heavily bombarding the area. Similar to Aleppo, the Barada region is facing the threat of civilian massacre.

Earlier this week, several opposition groups issued a declaration, saying that they have frozen all peace talks and negotiations with the Assad regime until after the cease-fire breaches are stopped. They slammed Russia for its failure as a guarantor to prevent Assad “forces” from spoiling the cease-fire. According to a report, Russia was responsible for five breaches in the first week as they shelled central Hama and northern Aleppo.

"As these violations are continuing, the factions announce... the freezing of all discussion linked to the Astana negotiations," the groups said in a joint statement.

As it stands for the time being, Astana peace talks, set to be held on January 23 in Kazakhstan, will fail even before they start. Somebody has to stop the brutal Assad regime from constantly breaching the cease-fire and putting civilians’ lives at risk.

It is hard to control Assad “forces” because there are two dominant powers in Syria: Russia and Iran-backed Shiite militias. A couple days ago, Iranian militias did not allow Russian officers to enter into one of the areas under their control. 

In addition, the Kremlin and Tehran fell apart during Aleppo evacuations. While Russia mediated the process with Turkey, Iran-backed militias opened fire at civilians and disrupted the evacuations several times.

Disturbed by the Turkish-Russian cooperation on the ground in Syria, Tehran does not want to lose its grip on the Assad regime. Iran-backed militias could endanger any cease-fire or peace process along the way.

Apart from differences of opinion between Turkey and Russia from time to time, Russian-Iranian war for influence on the Assad regime entangles the future of millions of Syrians. 

It is nearly impossible to foretell now, two weeks before the Jan. 23 Astana talks, whether the opposition groups will re-agree to sit at the table. If the Assad regime surprises us and changes the course of its military operations in Syria, there is a slight chance that the sides could start looking for a political solution.

Despite having turned a blind eye to Assad’s atrocities in and around Aleppo against innocent civilians, the international community could at least make the Assad regime respect the cease-fire, approved by the United Nations Security Council.

I do not reckon that troops loyal to the Assad regime will only stop with a couple cease-fire breaches. It could turn into a wide-scale massacre in weeks, if not in days.


Yunus Paksoy is the chief reporter of the Istanbul-based Turkish newspaper DAILY SABAH. Paksoy has covered Turkey’s Operation Euphrates Shield in Syria and the Mosul Operation in Iraq and focuses on developments in Syria, the Middle East and Turkey’s southeast.