Despite comments by US Secretary of State John Kerry, the reality on the ground is that the most recent ceasefire agreement in Syria has miserably failed.
By Michael Cruickshank, @MJ_Cruickshank
On the night of the 19th of September, a convoy of trucks organised by the Syrian Red Crescent and carrying humanitarian aid was bombed as it attempted to enter besieged Eastern Aleppo. Airstrikes destroyed 18 trucks and killed at least 20 civilians, including local Red Crescent officials.
This was followed by a blame game where local aid workers and the US claimed the convoy was attacked by aircraft, while Russia and Syria denied this. Making matters worse, Russia (and Russian state-run media) pushed a number of different narratives: firstly that the convoy was targeted by opposition fighters, then that the convoy caught fire, and finally that convoy was travelling with opposition military vehicles. Furthermore, Russia originally claimed that it could not be responsible, given that it wasn’t tracking the convoy. Such a claim however seems implausible given that a visual feed from a drone monitoring the convoy was streamed throughout the previous day, and then Russia used similar footage to back their claim that the convoy contained military vehicles. Finally, the bombing of the convoy was tied to an alleged opposition offensive in the region seemingly to provide a justification for the bombing.
Putting aside these bizarre and contradictory denials, the tragedy of this event serves to underscore the ongoing failure of the recent US-Russian ceasefire agreement. Beyond not allowing aid into besieged areas, the ceasefire has failed in its primary aim of stopping the fighting and airstrikes against civilians areas. Just one or two days into the ceasefire, there were reports of clashes between government and opposition forces. Then by the weekend, airstrikes were once again being reported across northern Syria and with that, additional civilian casualties.
While this deal was billed as a ‘last hope’ for Syria, it failed for almost the same reasons all previous deals have failed. Like the last major attempt for a ceasefire (in February), the deal was not transparent and it was not clear which areas it covered. In addition, both the Syrian Government, as well as jihadi groups like Jabhat Fatah al-Sham did their best to block humanitarian aid. Finally, the deal itself hinged on US-Russian military cooperation, something which was difficult to begin with, and then made almost impossible following the accidental bombing of a Syrian government position in Deir Ez-Zour by US-led coalition aircraft.
Despite that fact that ceasefire is not being heeded on the ground and indeed that the Syrian government itself says that the initial 7 day ceasefire period would not be extended, US Secretary of State John Kerry yesterday claimed the ceasefire was “not dead” and that further dialogue was needed. While Kerry's proclaimed commitment to stabilizing the situation could be applauded, it nonetheless represents a denial of facts on the ground.
Clearly a new approach to finding a lasting peace in Syria is needed, however at this stage none is forthcoming. Historically civil wars with extensive outside interference have lasted over a decade. Many now fear a similar fate of grinding, ongoing war is in store for Syria.