Editor in Chief: Moh. Reza Huwaida Friday, June 23rd, 2017

Burning Amidst Violence

The unmitigated war in Syria, which inflicts great sufferings on the nation, shatters the hope for fruitful talks. Insurgency does not appear to be abating. Non-combatants sustain indescribable pains and anguish and left at the mercy of the cruel practices of warring parties, including the self-styled Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) group. Women and children bear the brunt of the war and insurgency. Their rights and freedoms are violated as a result of the militants’ disregard to the humanitarian law and their blood is spilt and dignity is disrespected on the basis of their racial and religious backgrounds.

With the continuation of war and humiliation of the rights of the public, freedom and democracy for the freedom-fighters are believed to be a pyrrhic victory. Now that this war has changed into a highly complicated game of policy, terrorism will rule the country for many years even if an agreement be brokered between Assad’s regime and the opposition. It is likely that militancy has radicalized a great deal of people. Worst of all, a large number of the ideologue radicals have gained firm foothold in the country and will resort to terrorist act as it is done in post-Saddam Iraq and post-Taliban Afghanistan.

The intra-Syrian talks – which will bring together representatives of the Syrian government and the opposition, along with their respective international backers – will resume after UN envoy Staffan de Mistura broke them off nine months ago as several rounds of meetings ultimately led to an escalation of violence across the country.

The talks are part of the latest initiative to bring an end to a destructive six-year war that has killed nearly half a million people, wounded more than a million, and displaced over 12 million – half of the country’s prewar population. They come on the heels of multilateral meetings in the Kazakh capital of Astana aimed at consolidating a shaky nationwide truce and paving the way towards political negotiations. But the ceasefire has steadily fallen apart and an all-out fighting has returned to key areas across the country, as tensions between the truce’s guarantors – Russia, Turkey and Iran – steadily rise.

Russia, whose military intervention in Syria was key in turning the tide of war in Assad’s favor, has pushed to restart negotiations since helping to facilitate the government takeover of rebel-held east Aleppo late last year, dealing the opposition its biggest defeat of the conflict.

The Astana meetings, in January, brought representatives from Russia, Turkey and Iran – another chief Assad ally – together with delegates from the Syrian government and officials from armed opposition groups. And while the first meeting in the Kazakh capital nominally succeeded in creating a “trilateral mechanism” through which Russia, Turkey and Iran would allegedly monitor and enforce the ceasefire, talks faltered in the second round as violence steadily returned to areas across the country.

Armed groups, particularly in Syria’s north, have split in recent months as the international community puts increasing pressure on rebel groups to distance themselves from hard-line Salafist groups linked to Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, a group formerly known as al-Nusra Front that changed its named after officially breaking ties with al-Qaeda.

Osama al-Koshak, a Syrian researcher and activist, says that today the opposition would be in a much stronger position if – before the Astana talks – the armed groups had undertaken offensives against the regime to put pressure on it. They had the necessary force but divisions and disagreements made it difficult for them to carry this out, he says.

After the fall of Aleppo and the declaration of a ceasefire that excluded a number of extreme armed groups, infighting erupted in Northern Syria resulting in significant gains for Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, which announced the formation of coalition Hay’et Tahrir al-Sham along with a number of other armed factions. The infighting further weakened the armed opposition in the run-up to the Geneva talks.

“Until now, there is no military body which represents the armed factions and there is no strong political body which really represents political power. This is our main problem as Syrians: There is no one to represent us who we trust,” al-Koshak is cited as saying.

The infighting among the opposition will be a strong blow to peace and an obstacle before the peace talks. Syrians will have to support a certain group and select their own representatives so that they can have a fruitful talk with Assad’s party. With further hesitation, the number of casualties will increase and militants will fish in the troubled waters. To be clearer, the ISIL and Al-Qaeda groups seek to continue their destructive role each and every minute and narrow the opportunities for talks. The longer militancy continues the more they will destroy the country. Hence, after almost six years of fighting, which had no result other than destructions and killings, one will certainly consider another strategy to stop violence and to save the innocent’s lives. It is time for Syrians to do their best to bring peace through negotiations or else the worst-case scenario will be awaiting them and terrorist groups struggle to keep the bloodbath up. Now that Syrians are weary of war and violence, which paved the ground for the foothold of nationwide terrorists including ISIL, they are in need of national unity to stand against terrorism.