Ceasefire Collapses in Syria after One Week

Alex Lee - 4A Nano
Posted on: September 25, 2016

Another month, another broken ceasefire in Syria. About two weeks ago on September 12, 2016, the ceasefire was announced after months of talks between Russia, the United States, and their respective allies. However, only a week later, the ceasefire had completely collapsed as government forces announced they would be recommencing with air strikes on the crucial war-torn city of Aleppo, this time with incendiary weapons. Recent developments in Syria seem like a repeat of events back in February, when the first ceasefire was announced and also quickly fell apart. The collapse of the latest ceasefire has further worsened the already abysmal living conditions in and around Aleppo.

Russia and the USA support different sides in the Syrian Civil War. Russia backs the de facto dictatorship of Bashar al-Assad, while the US aids the coalition of opposition forces rebelling against the government. However, politics in the conflict are complicated by a number of issues. First off, the so-called Islamic State (ISIS) is an active force in the war and has seized large swathes of eastern Syria. However, in recent months they have started to lose ground and have withdrawn troops to deal with increased pressure in Iraq. Al-Qaeda-backed Jabhat Fateh al-Sham (formerly the Al-Nusra Front), has also been a major participant in the war. Neither of these factions are supported by the USA or Russia, though Turkey and Saudi Arabia support them and their allies. To further complicate things, the Kurds, an ethnic minority with populations primarily in Syria, Turkey, and Iraq, have also been a major faction in the war. The Kurds are opposed to the Islamist militias and the government, but are a separate faction from the main opposition. They are supported by the US, but Turkey is actively opposed to them due to their links with Kurdish separatist groups that operate in Turkey itself. The multitude of factions involved in the war, each with their own aims and agendas, has resulted in the longest and bloodiest conflict to come out of the Arab Spring, and possibly in decades.

The civil war grew out of the Arab Spring, a revolutionary wave of protests beginning in 2010 that rocked the entire Middle East. In many countries, the public performed protests and demonstrations against authoritarianism, corruption, and poor economic conditions; in some of these countries, these protests and demonstrations devolved into revolt and civil war. The Arab Spring had a wide impact on the Middle East, and has resulted in regime changes in some countries like Tunisia, Libya, and Egypt. However, most countries’ authoritarian governments were able to maintain their grip on power, and even in those countries where strongmen were overthrown, conditions have either remained the same or actually worsened. For example, Egypt experienced several years of political instability, and only in the last year has had a stable government, though the President comes from similar military roots as the previous dictator. In Libya, dictator Muammar Gaddafi was ousted with the help of NATO air support, but the country is now fractured between multiple groups and no one government has been able to reunify the country.

However, the worst conflict to come out of the Arab Spring is almost unequivocally the Syrian Civil War. Syria has been ruled by the Assad family since 1970 after a succession of coups that ended democratic rule. The Assad family are Alawites, a minority Muslim sect similar to Shia Islam. Syrians predominantly practice Sunni Islam, and thus the Assad family has had to use authoritarian measures to maintain power.

The Syrian protests began with calls for more civil freedoms and democratization, but they quickly shifted to demanding the outright removal of the Assad regime. The government responded with brutal crackdowns which only served to intensify protests. Eventually, sections of the army became disillusioned with the Assad regime and defected to join opposition militias against the state. The conflict quickly escalated from here into the geopolitical nightmare that exists in Syria today.

The war has raged on for five and a half years, and has settled into a bitter stalemate between the opposition and government forces. Fighting has been most intense around the city of Aleppo, Syria’s largest city and the second most important after Damascus.  The government has seized the western half of the city and encircled the rebel-controlled eastern half, but neither side has gained any meaningful ground since.

Though no faction has emerged as the winner in the war yet, the biggest losers have been the Syrian people. Five and a half years of civil war have all but destroyed Syria’s infrastructure and economy, leaving most of the populace in desperate need of even basic supplies. Food prices have gone up several fold since the start of the war. Conditions are among the worst in Aleppo, where the remaining population lives in fear of bombings and air strikes around the clock. Both sides, especially the Assad regime, have been accused of committing war crimes and using chemical weapons, which are forbidden under the 1993 Chemical Weapons Convention.

Syria’s pre-war population was around 23 million. Today the population still living in the country is around 17 million. Around 10 million have been displaced overall, and 6 million people, nearly one in three, have fled the country to seek refuge in neighbouring countries and beyond. These refugees have put immense strain on their host countries, which has caused a flare in racist anti-immigrant sentiment, especially in Europe.

Peace talks to get the opposition and government forces to reconcile have been attempted since 2012. However, neither side has been willing to compromise on any of the key divisive issues, such as the removal of President Assad. Every time a ceasefire has been proposed, it has collapsed within weeks. As talks continue to stall, it seems there is no end in sight to the war.

Air strikes have resumed in rebel-controlled sections of Aleppo with incendiary weapons, possibly more destructive than anything yet seen during the war. The number of people in Aleppo continues to dwindle as casualties rise. The medical situation worsens every day as doctors are killed and humanitarian aid becomes even harder to access. As conditions continue to deteriorate and become more hellish, the people of Aleppo can only be wondering how much longer until peace is achieved and the nightmare ends.