Recent images of starved civilians in Madaya, a Syrian city that has felt the brunt of Damascus’ cynical attempts to destroy a rebel-held area by surrounding, shelling, and bombing campaigns, have come to symbolize the current stalemate in the Syrian Civil War. Even when, facing such desperation, armed rebel groups have accepted a ceasefire in Madaya and elsewhere, Syrian leader Bashar al Assad has often broken the agreements when it has suited him. As a result, efforts to broker a ceasefire in Syria have failed time and time again, and the rebels, now distrusting of any regime-brokered peace, do not believe that Assad will commit in earnest.
But a new model of ceasefires, brokered and guaranteed by the regime’s backers in Tehran and Moscow, may break this pattern. In November, the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, along with the major regional supporters of Assad and rebel groups, pledged to support Syrian peace negotiations and a ceasefire that would steer the country toward a political solution to the Syrian civil war. Now, as Syria’s warring sides prepare for a new round of peace talks set to begin this Friday, according to the Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for Syria Staffan de Mistura, the idea of credible ceasefires will top the agenda. For the United Nations, keeping these agreements intact will shape much of its agenda in the nation for the year to come.
With Syrian peace talks begining on January 29th, there are several problems that may undermine their probability of success, primarily a pervasive feeling among the opposition that the United States is not bolstering their position against the pro-regime front supported by Russia and Iran. The opposition, for example, insists that as the parties agreed on in the Vienna communique and UNSC Resolution 2254, Washington must pressure the regime to release prisoners, lift sieges, and stop bombing civilian areas. U.S. officials say they are exerting enough pressure, but that the opposition has to set realistic
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