By: Halimah Elmariah
Every week, we will give you the rundown on a recent development related to international affairs. This week: The U.S.-Russia brokered Syrian ceasefire
How did it all start?
The Syrian conflict first started as a revolution in March 2011 in the larger Arab Spring. In the southern city of Deraa, security forces arrested and tortured teenagers for writing pro-revolutionary slogans on a school wall. Consequently, protesters took to the streets demanding the removal of President Bashar Al Assad, who took office after his father in 2000.
The revolution spiraled into a bloody conflict when opposition forces took up arms to defend themselves and to fight off Syrian security forces, who were using live ammunition to disperse protests, making mass arrests, and torturing civilians.
The convoluted situation further deteriorated into a partial religious war of Shiites against Sunnis, a proxy war between Syria, Iran and Russia against the United States and its allies.
Now in its fifth year, the war has taken the lives of over a quarter million Syrians. Millions of others have fled to nearby countries as refugees, nearly half of the remaining population is internally displaced, and many schools and hospitals have been decimated, further devastating the condition of those trapped in the country.
The bloody conflict and larger regional instability created a political vacuum, facilitating the growth of terror group ISIS, which further complicates the situation in Syria.
What is the U.S.-Russia Syrian ceasefire plan?
On September 10, 2016, the United States and Russia announced a plan to implement a ceasefire in Syria between the Syrian government and moderate rebel groups. This was intended to create a channel for humanitarian efforts to reach besieged Syrians, and to allow the United States and Russia to jointly and effectively attack ISIS and Jabhat Fateh Al Sham, an Al Qaeda affiliate previously known as Al Nusra Front. The physical text of the agreement is still not public.
According to the agreement, if the cease-fire lasts for seven days, starting at sundown on Monday, September 12th, the United States and Russia will take the next step of discussing military strategies to combat their common enemy, Jabhat Fateh Al Sham and ISIS.
The brokered truce demands President Bashar Al Assad to stop bombing rebel-held territory and the rebels to halt their military cooperation with Al Qaeda-linked groups.
The pact does not clarify the punishment if any parties violate the ceasefire. Further, the agreement does not evidently specify how it will monitor the activity of the Syrian government and the moderate rebel forces to ensure compliance with the ceasefire.
Ultimately, Moscow and Washington wish to use the ceasefire and the anti-extremist campaign as groundwork for a permanent peace agreement.
The bilateral plan comes after months of unsuccessful talks aimed at finding a solution to the complex problem.
What was the international community’s response?
The United Nations welcomed the deal, saying Saturday that all parties should help in the delivery of humanitarian aid to besieged areas.
The Foreign Ministries of Turkey, Germany, and the United Kingdom also embraced the ceasefire.
Saudi Arabia, which has sided with the United States against President Bashar Al Assad, also welcomed the U.S.-Russian brokered plan, stating in a statement by the Foreign Ministry that it hopes this effort will alleviate the suffering of Syrians.
Will it work?
International relations experts and analysts have debated the prospective success of the ceasefire, with many arguing that it will not last like the ceasefire that preceded it in February.
In an article for Foreign Policy, Randa Slim argues that although the ceasefire may or may not work, what’s critical is the temporary relief for Syrians on the ground from the violence. Drawing from her experience living in Lebanon during the 15-year war, Slim remembers moments of temporary relief during short-lived ceasefires. Slim posits that much of the deal will weigh on Moscow and Washington’s ability to force their allies on the ground to adhere to the rules of the agreement.
A feature in Vox draws on the ambiguity of the agreement as a source of possible failure, citing that the agreement does not map out penalties for violations, the text has not been made public, and contradictory public statements made by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry. Unlike many other analyses of the ceasefire, this feature does not oversimplify the conflict.