The Ceasefire Holds in Syria, But Only Just

Brigita Gubins - 2A Environmental
Posted on: March 29, 2016

In the month since the ceasefire was declared in Syria, peace talks have been held in Geneva, and the historic city of Palmyra has been recaptured from terrorist militants. The United Nations envoy overseeing the Syrian peace process has slated the next round of talks for April 9th.

However, the ceasefire has by no means been universally observed. The Russian coordination centre in Latakia reported that unspecified groups launched 11 attacks within the last 24 hours of the time this article was written. Mortars were fired, and heavy shelling targeted both the Kurdish YPG protection units and residential areas, claiming at least one life and injuring several others.

The greatest victory by any party in the war-weary country has been the retaking of the captured city of Palmyra by regime forces. The historic site was seized by Islamic state militants in 2014. With the aid of heavy air-support from the Russian Federation, regime forces and local allied militia were able to gain ground as the terrorists were forced to flee their stronghold. Further airstrikes were reportedly targeting vehicles leaving the city, travelling east towards ISIS-held territory.

Further complications to the conflict involves the decades-long (some argue centuries) antagonizing of an ethnic minority, the Kurds, by Turkey and subsequent antagonizing of the Turkish majority by the Kurds. Because of the hard-won semi-autonomy enjoyed by the Kurds in Syria, many have flocked to the Kurdish People’s Army (YPG) banner from neighbouring Turkey. The YPG are arguably the best ground-force controlling Islamic state militant activity on the Turkish border; however, Turkish officials consider the YPG to be a terrorist organization. As the west has backed the rebel groups, including the YPG, this has caused internal disagreement among the rebel-backing nations. The west cannot afford to alienate Turkey, being an important NATO member situated in the Mediterranean, especially when its immediate neighbour is already at war.

A short tangent on Turkey/The Kurds: The Turkish government has been condemned by the United Nations for decades for their treatment of the Kurdish people. Numerous human rights violations have been cited, heavily emphasising the approaching-genocidal policies on the Kurdish language and culture within Turkey. However, independent political groups of Kurdish radicals have staged loud protests involving bombings and taking ethnic Turks hostage in order to gain autonomy from Turkey.

In the weeks since the tenuous agreement was announced, the Obama administration has been facing increasing pressure to follow through on their intentions to oust the Assad regime from Syrian government. It is speculated that the Russian air support has turned the tide of the civil war in the regime’s favour. However, Russia has begun to withdraw much of its heavy military presence in the area, suggesting that Russia too wishes for a swift conclusion to the half-decade political unrest. Secretary of State John Kerry went so far as to state that Russia was by no means “wedded” [sic] to Assad, although State Spokespersons declined to comment on the recent victory in Palmyra by regime forces, only expressing relief at the victory over terrorist insurgents.

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