By Hannah Schultz, International Correspondent
“I’m pleased to say that as a result today in Munich, we believe we have made progress on both the humanitarian front and the cessation of hostilities front, and these two fronts, this progress, has the potential—fully implemented, fully followed through on—to be able to change the daily lives of the Syrian people,” U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said after a meeting of world diplomats to discuss the Syrian crisis on Feb. 11.
The Syrian civil war has been destroying the lives of the Syrian people for nearly five years. The war has come to a stalemate, with the Assad government, Islamic State, an array of Syrian rebels and Kurdish fighters all holding territory. Airstrikes on terrorist cells in the area, as well as open hostilities between Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his opponents, have resulted in millions fleeing the country amid the turmoil. The BBC reported that more than 250,000 people have been killed and some 11 million displaced.
Last week’s 17-nation International Syria Support Group meeting shows international concern for the continuation of the conflict. The new deal that the group fashioned has two main components, according to Kerry.
“First, we have agreed to accelerate and expand the delivery of humanitarian aid beginning immediately,” he told reporters.
“Second, we have agreed to implement a nationwide cessation of hostilities to begin in a target of one week’s time,” he continued. “That’s ambitious, but everybody is determined to move as rapidly as possible to try to achieve this.”
Everybody, that is, except Syria. The agreement was struck without the involvement of the Syrian government or the rebels, resulting in uncertainty from both sides.
Riad Hijab, co-ordinator of Syria’s main opposition forces, told the BBC’s Newsnight program that to announce a cessation of hostilities before making progress in the political process “is not realistic, objective or logical.”
Assad reportedly released a statement saying that he wanted to “retake the whole country” from the rebels, believing the war needed to be solved by military force. Many rebel groups have released statements asserting that they will not cease hostilities until the government stops shelling them, besieged areas are released, safe crossings are opened for civilians and prisoners are released, while other groups are saying they will not stop fighting until Assad is removed from power, the BBC reported.
Furthermore, there has been unease about a cessation of hostilities due to Russia’s involvement in the conflict. The deal does not apply to terrorist groups such as al Nusra Front and ISIS, and reportedly, Russia has decided to continue its airstrikes as a result. France, Britain and the U.S. have all accused Russia of targeting mainstream rebels and civilians with airstrikes, while leaving ISIS largely unscathed. Russia has flatly denied this, saying most of those civilians were being besieged by rebels rather than by Assad’s forces, according to an article from the BBC.
While there is no confirmation of Russia targeting civilians and rebel groups rather than terrorist cells, their refusal to halt airstrikes has undermined attempts at ceasefire. According to the BBC, rebel groups in Syria will not stop fighting because they do not believe that Russia will end its bombing campaign in support of the government.
Despite a still uncertain future for the Syrian civil war, many have optimism that this new deal will be the turning point towards an end to the military conflict.
The agreement to cease hostilities is an “important step,” Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said. “What is important now is embracing this opportunity, stopping the airstrikes, ceasing targeting civilians and providing humanitarian access.”