In Syria, it seems that the citizens have little say in what happens within their country. The latest deal to attempt to broker a peace between the various warring factions did not even include the Syrian opposition. The deal was created and agreed to by Russia, Turkey and Iran. Note that not even the Syrian government was involved.
The deal essentially creates “de-escalation zones”, which are part of a plan that calls for the cessation of hostilities between rebel groups and forces fighting on behalf of Assad’s government. These zones are being created in mainly opposition held territory within Syria. As part of the plan, a six-month renewable truce began on Saturday and all of Assad’s air force will halt its flights over these zones. However, Russia will continue to fly over the areas, but will refrain from conducting air raids.
The Syrian government is also to allow “unhindered” humanitarian aid into rebel-held areas and public utilities are to be restored where they have been cut off. The deal does allow its guarantors to continue targeting the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant and al-Qaeda groups inside the safe zones.
The Syrian government has said that it will abide by the agreement, but continue to fight terrorism, which includes the armed rebel groups who have been fighting the government troops.
Additionally, the Syrian government has said it will not accept UN monitoring of the deal.
“We do not accept a role for the United Nations or international forces to monitor the agreement,” said Walid al-Moallem, Syrian Foreign Minister. When asked about violations, he added, “the Syrian Army will be prepared to respond in a decisive manner.”
Russia has invested a lot into the process and is hoping to get U.S. backing for the deal, despite the differences both countries have had in the past over Syria.
“Moscow has invested all of its cards in the Astana process,” said Charles Lister, a senior fellow at the Middle East Institute in Washington. “Russia has a great deal to lose should this initiative fall apart, which makes acquiring a more committed U.S. statement of support extremely important.”
The State Department has expressed concern about the role of Iran in the agreement, something that was also echoed by the Syrian opposition, who walked out in protest when the deal was signed.
Their chief gripe was the involvement of Iran, which has poured thousands of fighters into the country to support Assad.
“We cannot accept the involvement of Iran that is slaughtering the Syria people and fueling sectarian division. We cannot accept it to act as a guarantor,” said Osama Abu Zeid, the leading opposition representative. “This is the key and core problem in the agreement.”
The opposition has also referred to Iran as a hostile state and “criminal”. Zeid also noted that similar Russia-approved ceasefires in the past have been broken by Moscow and Damascus.
Still, international leaders see it as a tentative step forward to provide peace and stability for the Syrian people. “It will be crucial to see if this agreement actually improves the lives of Syrians,” said Stephane Dujarric, a UN spokesman.
The Riyadh-based HNC, which includes political and armed groups in Syria, cautioned against attempts to “partition the country through vague meaning of what has been called ‘de-escalation zones’,” in a statement on Friday.
The details of the deal itself are unclear, because the signed memorandum has not been published. Assad has maintained that he would only accept a regime victory, while the opposition has declared that peace is not possible if Assad remains in power.
The fighting in Syria has cost over 500,000 lives and displaced large portions of the population. Most of the causalities have come from regime bombings.
UN mediator Staffan de Mistura has announced a new round of peace talks in Geneva between the Syrian government and the opposition on May 16. He did note in a statement that he hopes the Astana agreement “will be implemented in full – thus bringing about a significant de-escalation in violence, and helping shape an environment conducive to the political intra-Syrian talks in Geneva.”
While the deal went into effect on Saturday, Russia, Turkey and Iran have until June 4 to map out the boundaries of the zones.
“The de-escalation zones are intended to shore up a partial cessation of hostilities brokered by Russia and Turkey at the end of last year, which both sides have accused each other of violating repeatedly,” reports the BBC.
Based on statements from the various parties, it seems that these zones will be enforced by Russian military police, which would be seen as an advantage to their ally, Assad.
“Perhaps the most notable part of the deal is its bare bones focus on dampening hostilities. This is a far cry from Western-backed Geneva talks, which aimed for eventual political transition. The Astana track represents a depoliticized truce attempt – further acknowledgement that Assad’s fate may be off the table,” said NPR reporter Alison Meuse.