Even as Syrian refugees stormed into international consciousness by undertaking their death-defying journey to Europe in thousands, the Syrian civil war, which turns five next month, suffered the predicament of pervasive and incessant conflicts in the world’s most volatile region — it ceased to surprise and shock and even make news. In five years, these are the figures from Syria: 2,50,000 dead; 4,80,000 living in besieged areas; four million more stuck in “hard-to-reach” areas. Thus, the US-Russia brokered “truce”, set to begin at midnight Saturday, offers the best hope yet for at least a temporary pullback from the race to the bottom. A similar effort earlier this month had failed. But the acceptance of the new agreement by both Bashar al-Assad’s government and the High Committee for Negotiations (HNC), the umbrella opposition group, well in advance of Friday’s midday deadline to make up their minds, bodes well. While the HNC will “wait and watch” the government’s moves for two weeks, the agreement doesn’t involve the Islamic State (IS) and al-Nusra Front.
The sanguinary facts and staggering figures of the Syrian conflict owe in no small measure to the Obama administration’s dithering on whether to intervene or not, even on humanitarian grounds. This not only gave room to the Assad regime but, more significantly, allowed the IS to emerge and set on a mass-murdering course. Russia’s military intervention, since last September, while propping up Assad, reportedly targeted non-IS and non-al-Qaeda opposition groups and civilians. Yet, Moscow was seen to be doing more than the US-led coalition’s limited air strikes against the IS.
The Syrian deal is technically a “cessation of hostilities”, and not a ceasefire. It’s a means to an end, that end being negotiations for a proper ceasefire. Russian President Vladimir Putin deserves praise for his telephone diplomacy that convinced Saudi Arabia — which, along with Turkey, backs the HNC and whose direct intervention might have led to a larger war with Russia — to give the deal a chance.