MESOP TOP OF THE AGENDA / RELEVANT COMMENTARIES : Strikes on Syrian Hospitals Sow Doubts Over Cease-Fire

At least fifty people, including children, died in a series of air strikes on schools and hospitals in northern Syria Monday (Reuters), the United Nations said, setting off fresh doubts over the proposal for a “cessation of hostilities” scheduled to go into effect Friday. Turkey’s foreign ministry accused Russia of carrying out the strikes; Moscow denied the claim (BBC). Meanwhile, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said it was unlikely the cease-fire plan, announced last week, would begin Friday as planned (AFP), saying it would be “difficult” to meet all the conditions necessary to implement it within the next few days.

“Militarily, the Saudi threat issued at Munich has to be made credible. If a ceasefire does not materialise soon, the Russians, Iranians and Assad himself have no incentives to quit while they are ahead. Only the possibility of Arab ground forces, from Saudi Arabia, Jordan and the UAE, heavily backed by western logistics and intelligence, air power and technical specialists, could force Assad and his backers to make a strategic choice in favour of cessation,” writes Michael Clarke for the Guardian.

“A viable cessation of hostilities would require sufficient buy-in among mainstream rebels to deter Nusra from continuing its own attacks and also a commitment by Moscow to prevent Russian, regime, and allied forces from initiating attacks on Nusra positions in areas where rebel factions participating in the truce are present. Without these, a cessation of hostilities that looks good on paper won’t amount to much on the ground,” says International Crisis Group analyst Noah Bonsey in this CFR interview.

“Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said last week that close coordination between U.S. and Russian military experts would be essential for securing a cease-fire. But Russia also vows to press its air assault against extremist groups, making clear that Moscow is in no rush to stop fighting,” writes the Associated Press.