Syria Cease-Fire Tested by Fighting in Damascus Suburb

A cease-fire in Syria that has largely held for four days faced a significant challenge on Friday morning as severe clashes were reported near Damascus. Rebel groups and the Syrian government blamed each other for the outburst of violence (CBS) in Jobar district, which hosts rebel fighters (Middle East Eye), including those from al-Qaeda’s former Syrian branch. The violence comes as UN special envoy Staffan de Mistura accused the government of Bashar al-Assad of holding up humanitarian aid convoys (NYT) in violation of last week’s U.S.-Russia agreement.


“If, in the end, Russian air strikes in Syria are subjected to an American veto, the Assad regime is kept from striking civilian neighborhoods, and significant aid flows resume to opposition areas, something of great value will have been accomplished. Nothing good can happen politically in Syria unless civilians are removed from the Assad regime and Russian bullseye. Nothing. If this agreement can spare Syrian civilians from continued mass murder it will be good in and of itself. There are however good reasons to believe the gains will be limited or temporary, judging from the regime’s track record during the previous cessation of hostilities and the lack of any enforcement mechanism,” Frederic C. Hof and Faysal Itani write for the Atlantic Council.

“If this pessimism [about the cease-fire] is borne out, the temptation will be to increase diplomatic efforts. This could be futile, as diplomacy tends to reflect conditions on the ground more than it shapes them. The alternative would be to change conditions on the ground. One could imagine an effort to make certain areas safe. It would require creating a humanitarian zone, something that would entail air cover and ground troops from rebel groups, and friendly neighbours. Such an approach would not end the war, but that is beyond anyone for the foreseeable future,” CFR President Richard N. Haass writes in the Financial Times.

“The Assad regime is responsible for over 90 percent of the sieges in Syria, and despite UN Security resolutions authorising aid to be delivered ‘across conflict-lines,’ the UN has capitulated to the regime’s strategy by only entering areas where it is permitted. Data shows that around 96 percent of aid goes to regime areas while only 4 percent goes to opposition areas. As a result, all deaths from starvation in Syria have happened in opposition-held areas. Government areas are strengthened while opposition areas wither and starve under the constant rain of barrel bombs. This self-confessed ‘starvation-until-submission’ strategy often culminates in local truces, readily mediated and supported by the UN,” Lara Nelson writes for Middle East Eye.