Assad’s fate: The biggest stumbling block of all
This leads to the biggest stumbling block of all: the fate of Bashar Assad.
The opposition says there can be no resolution to the conflict without his departure, if not immediately then during a transition period.
However, the regime has consistently said its fate is not up for discussion. Neither party has indicated a shift in their positions.
Some may see a weakened opposition as potentially more malleable on this issue.
However, any fundamental change in its position would cause massive internal divisions that would cripple its position on the ground as well as at the negotiating table.
It could also cause tensions with its Gulf allies, whose support is more important than ever given Ankara’s thaw with Moscow, and US President-elect Donald Trump’s vow to stop supporting Syrian rebels.
For obvious reasons, the HNC would be keen to avoid these potential ruptures. In any case, a spokesman for the rebel Free Syrian Army (FSA) reiterated on the first day of the ceasefire that Assad would have no place in Syria’s future.
Assad, however, has repeatedly vowed to retake the whole country.
He is emboldened by the recent capture of east Aleppo and a string of other battlefield victories this year, as well as by the apparent softening of Turkey’s stance on the conflict, and Trump’s incoming presidency.
With his position now arguably at its most secure since the revolution against him began, Assad is likely to be as belligerent as ever, if not more so, because he sees no compelling reason to make concessions.
As he has done before, he may intend to use the ceasefire and talks as a pretext for another military onslaught following their failure.
Sharif Nashashibi (Part of an article published in the Middle East Eye; Dec. 30, 2016)