Situation in Syria requires effective plan to resolve conflict
23 May 2020. PenzaNews. United Nations Special Envoy for Syria Geir O. Pedersen called on Russia and the United States to continue dialogue on Syrian conflict. The corresponding statement was made at a meeting of the UN Security Council, which took place in a video conference format on May 18.
“I want to stress that renewed and meaningful international cooperation, building trust and confidence between international stakeholders and with Syrians, including through reciprocal measures, is essential – and could unlock progress,” he said.
“I believe that Russian-American dialogue has a key role to play here, and I encourage them to pursue it,” the Special Envoy added.
He also expressed the view that the efforts of the Astana format (Russia, Iran, Turkey) and the so-called Small Group on Syria (Great Britain, Germany, Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, US, France) should ultimately be united under the auspices of the UN.
Meanwhile, the situation in the country remains tense. Of particular concern is the situation in the areas which are not controlled by the government in the northeast of the country, where terrorists took advantage of the coronavirus pandemic and intensified their attacks. According to reports, only from May 10 to 15, militants made more than 20 attacks against Kurdish forces, as a result of which over 20 people were killed and about 40 were wounded.
According to the agreement of the Russian and Turkish sides, from March 6, 2020, a cessation of hostilities is in effect on the territory of the Idlib de-escalation zone. According to the newsletter of the Ministry of Defense of the Russian Federation, over the past 24 hours, the Russian party of the joint Russian-Turkish commission to consider issues related to violations of the cessation of hostilities recorded 5 facts of firing in two provinces: one – in Latakia, four – in Idlib. The Turkish party of the representative office did not record the opening of fire.
On May 23, it became known that on Sunday, two regional leaders of the Islamic State [ISIS, Daesh, banned in Russia] were killed during the joint operation of the US-led coalition and the Syrian democratic forces in the province of Deir ez-Zor. One of them was involved in disseminating instructions from the leadership of the group among its members in northern Baghdad, while the second was responsible for the acquisition and transportation of weapons. At the same time, the previous day there were reports that in the vicinity of Deir ez-Zor there was an explosion in the market square, as a result of which civilians were killed and injured. According to media reports, in order to clean up the area from gangs of terrorists, the government forces carried out the transfer of army reinforcements to the northeast.
At the same time, it was previously noted, including by the press secretary of the President of the Russian Federation Dmitry Peskov, that Russia is the only country which military is located in Syria “on a legal basis at the request of the legitimate Syrian leadership.” According to him, all the military personnel of other countries are located there “contrary to the norms and principles of international law.”
Commenting on the difficult situation in the republic, Itamar Rabinovich, Israel’s former ambassador to the United States, former chief negotiator with Syria between 1993 and 1996, professor emeritus of Middle Eastern History at Tel Aviv University, distinguished global professor at New York University, foreign member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, shared the opinion that the past three and a half years, since the capture of Aleppo by the Asad regime can be defined as the post-civil war crisis in Syria.
“With Russian and Iranian help Asad defeated the opposition and survived, but Syria is far from being back to normal and the post war crisis endures. The regime depends on continued Russian and Iranian support. Russian, American, Iranian and Shiite militia troops are present in the country. Turkey occupies a large stretch of land along its border with Syria and at least 30 percent of Syria’s territory is held by Kurdish militias and opposition groups. Non progress has been made towards political reconciliation, political reform, return of millions of refugees and economic rehabilitation,” Itamar Rabinovich said.
According to him, Russia's military operation in Syria has been quite successful, but Moscow has not yet achieved its most ambitious goal.
“Russia intervened militarily in 2015 primarily in order to save the regime but also in order to check the Sunni Jihadi groups. It has been a successful intervention but Moscow would like to see political reform that would open the door to international support for rehabilitation,” the former politician explained, adding that the sitution is exasperated by Assad’s refusal to move in that direction.
From his point of view, the current state of affairs in the country may become even more complicated due to the spread of a new coronavirus infection COVID-19.
“In economic terms the pandemic’s impact will increase the difficulty of raising international funds for reconstruction. […] The new sanctions by the US were not initiated by the administration. They were initiated and legislated by Congress, but they do give the administration another tool for exerting influence in Syria, should it choose to use them to this end,” Itamar Rabinovich noted.
Kamal Sido, Head of Middle East Department of the Society for Threatened Peoples (STP), drew attention to the fact that US sanctions inflict a serious blow on civilians in Syria.
“Americans must understand that it is not the Syrian regime that is suffering from these sanctions, but the Syrian population – all the layers of the society. The US should lift these sanctions, at least in the regions in the north-east of the country, which are not controlled by the regime,” the expert said, adding that the situation there is especially difficult.
According to him, in Idlib province, there is still danger of hostilities between the troops of Damascus and the Islamic groups supported by Turkey, which continues threating the Kurds.
The expert emphasized that the situation in Syria could radically change if Moscow and Washington can reach a compromise in their approach to resolving the crisis.
“A lot will depend on the agreement between the Russian Federation and the US. If Moscow and Washington can come to some kind of agreement regarding the fate of Syria, it will be very easy to resolve the Syrian issue. Such an agreement would be in the interests of all people in the country, including representatives of various national minorities living there,” he said.
Commenting on the decision of the Syrian authorities to postpone the parliamentary elections until July 19 in connection with the pandemic, the analyst expressed the opinion that they will not be democratic, since there are no conditions for the free will expression.
“The north-east of the country is not subject to the regime, the province of Idlib is under the control of Islamic militants, like many other regions,” Kamal Sido said.
Michael O’Hanlon, Senior Fellow at Brookings Institution and an author of several publications for the National Interest magazine, also considered the issue of postponing the elections to the Syrian parliament not so significant.
“I don’t have a good feel for what’s happening with COVID-19 in Syria but believe the postponement of parliamentary elections may be the least of our problems given all the other tragedies there, and the fact that parliament is not really representative or powerful anyway,” the expert explained.
From his point of view, the current situation in Syria is “very sad.”
“A slow-motion battle for Idlib is occurring even as the rest of the country wallows in a state between war and peace, without recovery. And COVID-19 together with war fatigue have pushed the issue off the newspapers and TV screens and minds of most policymakers,” Michael O’Hanlon said.
Asked about the decision of the United States to extend sanctions against Syria, he noted that on the one hand, there is little choice under the current regime, but on the other, prolonging sanctions without a meaningful strategy to wind down the war risks is “causing unnecessary and pointless suffering.”
Ilgar Velizade, Head of the Baku-based South Caucasus Club of Political Scientists, stressed that gangs in Idlib provoke tensions in the region, destabilizing the situation in the conflict zone.
“The countries of the Astana format: Iran, Russia, Turkey again expressed their concern about this. The parties continue to consult on the resumption of negotiations in order to make the processes in the region controlled. It is hoped that after the quarantine, the planned summit in Tehran will nevertheless take place. At the same time, if the operational situation in the country remains tense, it is possible that it will be held in the online conference mode,” the expert said.
Speaking about the postponement of parliamentary elections because of the pandemic and the new infection in general, he expressed his conviction that the Syrian government “did its best in the current circumstances to slow the spread of coronavirus in the country.”
“At the same time, it should be recognized that over the years of the war, the healthcare system in Syria has been largely destroyed, especially in the regions, which increases the risks of a pandemic. In these conditions, the postponement of the parliamentary elections seems quite justified and logical. Currently, any mass event in Syria is fraught with the most serious consequences, so the actions of the Syrian authorities look adequate to the circumstances,” Ilgar Velizade explained.
In his opinion, the US decision to extend sanctions against Syria was most likely made by inertia and generally reflects the unwillingness of the US administration to change the usual approaches and methods of solving the Syrian problem.
“It is unlikely that in the current conditions we should expect a serious change in the White House’s course on this issue, since the Trump administration is more interested in solving the internal problems caused by the pandemic and in the election race,” the political scientist added.
At the same time, Russia’s actions in Syria, in his opinion, look consistent.
“Measures to combat terrorism meet the long-term interests of the Russian Federation in the Middle East and to a large extent ensure the final defeat of the Islamic State [ISIS, Daesh, banned in Russia] in Syria. This role of Russia is recognized even by its enemies. At present, the close interaction of Moscow, Tehran and Ankara can reduce the risks of international tension in this conflict region and create the basis for the destruction of terrorist groups in Syria in the foreseeable future,” Ilgar Velizade concluded.