by Zafar Bangash (Editorials, Crescent International Vol. 45, No. 1, Jumada' al-Ula', 1437)
After weeks of intense diplomacy, both public and private, and amid threats of more invasions, the US and Russia announced on February 22 that they had agreed to the terms for cessation of hostilities in Syria. The ceasefire is to commence at midnight Damascus time on February 27 and will apply to all warring parties and their allies except such terrorist outfits as Da‘ish, Jabhat al-Nusra, and other terrorist groups designated as such by the UN Security Council.
This was the sticking point holding finalization of the agreement because Washington and its regional puppets, principally Saudi Arabia and Turkey, wanted to protect their favorite terrorist outfits. Russia would have none of it and insisted attacks against them will continue. Syrian President Bashar al-Asad added that such other terrorist groups as Jaysh al-Islam and Ahrar al-Sham are also not included in this truce and the Syrian army will continue to operate against them.
The ceasefire agreement was announced a day after a series of terrorist bombings in Homs, near the Sayyidah Zaynab Masjid in Damascus, resulted in the death of 114 innocent civilians. Da‘ish (aka ISIS/ISIL) claimed responsibility for both. No doubt, they will continue their dastardly crimes until the last of them has been either eliminated or driven out of Syria. It is also revealing that the Saudi-backed and financed High Negotiation Council wanted to exclude Jabhat al-Nusra from further attacks, clearly indicating that Bani Saud and their puppets are the real instigators of mayhem in Syria.
The truce terms call for setting up a number of mechanisms to monitor the ceasefire as well as deliver humanitarian aid to the long-suffering people. Moscow and Washington are to establish a communications hotline as well as an International Syria Support Group (ISSG) Ceasefire Task Force under the auspices of the UN. It will identify territories held by various groups, ensuring communications between all parties in order to “rapidly de-escalate tensions,” and report any “persistent non-compliant behavior by any of the parties.”
In an interview with a Spanish television network President al-Asad had declared a day earlier that he was prepared to accept a truce provided it not be exploited by terrorists to regroup and not be used by their sponsoring regimes in Ankara and Riyadh to supply them with more weapons. The Syrian army, backed by allies Iran and Hizbullah, have made rapid progress on the ground against the terrorists as Russian planes have pounded their positions from the sky. This has forced the terrorists and their sponsors to sue for peace while there is still time before they are routed completely.
Immediately after the truce terms were announced, a statement from President al-Asad’s office said parliamentary elections will be held to the 250-seat People’s Council on April 13, 2016. All political factions agreeing to the truce will be allowed to participate. Parliamentary elections are held every four years. Al-Asad’s announcement clearly exudes confidence as his forces have the upper hand on the battlefield.
The truce announcement indicates that the Saudis have been chastened and have had to accept defeat in Syria. The wild card in this equation is the mercurial president of Turkey, Recep Tayip Erdogan. Will he desist from further mischief or act as a spoiler? The next few days and weeks will tell. If the truce holds, it will end the long agony of the Syrian people and give them some hope to resume normal life.