Yezid Sayigh writes: If the ceasefire brokered by Russia and Turkey holds, it will be welcomed by most people in Syria – but the odds seem stacked against it.
Several previous ceasefires have collapsed, and new clashes have already broken out in several parts of the country amidst sharp differences in interpretation of the latest agreement by the Syrian opposition and the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
But not all past ceasefire attempts have failed. And this time dramatic shifts in Turkish policy towards the Syrian conflict may alter everything.
Political investment by major external powers is clearly critical for any ceasefire deal to succeed.
The “cessation of hostilities” that was brokered by the US and Russia in February 2016 produced a major drop in levels of violence in all regime- and opposition-held areas for some two months.
Its eventual collapse was likely, but not inevitable.
Other, more localized ceasefires were mediated by Iran in the city of Homs in May 2014 and January 2015 and by Iran and Turkey in the large towns of Zabadani, Foah and Kefraya in September 2015.
These were flawed and highly coercive arrangements that had to be renegotiated repeatedly, but they allowed the evacuation of fighters and wounded and some supply of humanitarian assistance.
Russia and Turkey appear sufficiently invested politically to make the latest ceasefire work.
But in seeking to encompass all parts of Syria not under Islamic State control, they are hostage to the two parties that have the least stake in a general truce: the Assad regime and Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, formerly known as Jabhat al-Nusra until ending its formal affiliation to Al-Qaeda last July.
Their gradual military escalation and counter-escalation was the principal reason for the ultimate collapse of the February cessation of hostilities agreement.
Already, the Assad regime has claimed that the latest ceasefire does not include Jabhat Fateh al-Sham. But opposition spokesmen say the opposite: that only areas under IS control are excluded. [Continue reading…]