Faysal Itani and Hossam Abouzahr write: It has been two weeks since a US-Russia brokered cessation of hostilities in Syria came into effect. Many analysts including these authors were skeptical about its prospects, due to the agreement’s terms and the regime’s perceived interests. Skeptics expected the regime and its allies to exploit a clause allowing attacks on the al-Qaeda affiliate Nusra Front, using it as cover for continuing the air campaign on non-jihadist opposition groups. There is substantial evidence, however, that something rather different is happening. Even as overall violence is greatly reduced, regime forces are openly bombing and in some cases launching ground operations to capture key rebel territory, without making any pretense of attacking the Nusra Front. This behavior offers some insight into long-term regime plans, and highlights how little leverage outside powers including the United States will have in shaping the new status quo in Syria.
The Syria Campaign established the Syria Ceasefire Monitor to monitor military operations and report alleged violations during the cessation of hostilities. It compiles data from multiple local sources including the Syrian Civil Defense, the Syrian Network for Human Rights, and local coordination committees in opposition-held territory. The standard caveats about the reliability of reporting from the Syrian war zone apply. Nevertheless the Syrian Ceasefire Monitor seems to be the best open-source monitoring effort on ceasefire violations, covering geography, weapons used, casualties inflicted, and identifying violators and whether they had aimed to capture ground.
The Syria Ceasefire Monitor reports 111 violations as of March 9–almost all perpetrated by regime or Russian forces. Attacks mostly targeted insurgent territory in Homs, Hama, Idlib, Latakia, Aleppo, Damascus, and Deraa. Air strikes and ground operations in Idlib very likely targeted the Nusra Front, but the regime and Russia also attacked opposition territory in which the Nusra Front had little or no presence. The clearest examples were attacks on a large, encircled opposition pocket in southern Hama and northern Homs provinces. [Continue reading…]