Negotiating a Ceasefire in Syria

By Yigit Topcu

The United Nations will be meeting this week in an attempt to push forth a ceasefire agreement in Syria, where the five year long conflict has claimed the lives of more than 250,000 people and caused the worst international refugee crisis in recent history.

While the beginning of the talks is overall a crucial step in the right direction, the successful adaptation and implementation of a ceasefire may be even more difficult in the aftermath of a recent series of airstrikes in northern Syria, where four hospitals and a school were struck, killing at least 46 and injuring many others.

The hospitals and the school were operated out of areas not controlled by ISIS or the al-Nusra Front, but by rebels with coalition backing –  a distinction which Russia and the Syrian government does not care for, as they classify all opposition as terrorists. One of the hospitals was being runned by the international humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders.

The attacks on the hospitals were widely condemned, with the US and its allies placing blame on Syria and its ally Russia. France, Turkey and Britain have gone a step further and accused Russia and Syria of committing a potential war crime. So far Russia denied the accusations, while Syria’s ambassador to Russia defended Syrian and Russian forces. The ambassador also stated that the United States was instead responsible for carrying out the attacks, while the US said it carried out no military operations in the area.

Meanwhile, Assad has come out as skeptical towards the ceasefire talks, saying “They are saying they want a ceasefire in a week. Who is capable of gathering all the conditions and requirements in a week? No one.”.

While a ceasefire may still be in negotiations, some progress towards ending hostilities was made in Munich on Friday as world powers agreed to allow aid to be delivered to civilians in Syria. United Nations convoys carrying humanitarian aid were able to enter several towns around Damascus, which were under siege either by the regime or the rebels.

If a ceasefire can be achieved, then peace talks may follow. The last attempt at peace talks sponsored by the UN did not agree on a ceasefire, and the talks collapsed quickly after the regime and Russia intensified their operations against the rebels right as the talks opened.