Some deal for Syria, finally?

Staffan de Mistura


The endorsement of a plan to establish four major deescalation zones in Syria by the sponsors of the Astana peace talks on the Syrian conflict offers a glimmer of hope that a settlement may hobble on its way.

The Moscow-proposed deal was signed by Russia, Iran and Turkey, the three ceasefire guarantors and major players in the Syrian crisis, and has the tacit agreement of Damascus and the Syrian opposition coalition represented at the recent Astana meeting.

The areas covered by the deal are the entire Idlib province, parts of Latakia, Aleppo, Hama and Homs provinces, the Daraa and Quneitra provinces and the Ghouta suburb of Damascus.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said the deal would solve “50 per cent” of the Syrian crisis. He might be right.

The idea of deescalation zones, as proposed by Russia, entails areas where, as the name suggests, there will be reduced levels of tension, and fighting, by having them under the control of the main international players, like the three above.

That differs somehow from Turkey’s suggestion of no-fly zones and of areas where refugees could gather, which would be controlled by international organisations only.

But whatever they are called, as long as such areas are created and people are spared more misery, they should be welcome.

Russian President Vladimir Putin said, “as far as I could tell”, US President Donald Trump endorsed the plan in a telephone conversation last week.

The idea of safe havens is not new; it was supported by Turkey right from the start of the six-year-old conflict, a position Turkey maintained even during Barack Obama’s term.

Obama did not adopt the proposal for fear that it could lead to US military involvement.

Obama’s hands-off policy did nothing to stop the escalation of the conflict in Syria. If anything, it tacitly encouraged a situation that led to heightened tension, more killings and exacerbation of the refugee crisis.

Now, at last, some steps are taken that might lead to peace in Syria.

According to the deal, the purpose of the safe areas is to “put an immediate end to violence” and “provide conditions for the safe and voluntary return of refugees”, and, of course, immediate delivery of relief supplies.

It should give new impetus to the efforts for peace, slated to continue with more talks in Geneva, in late May and again in Astana, in mid-July.

It seems that measures to arrive at peace in Syria are finally given a chance.

They should be given wide support, both by the immediate actors in the conflict — Damascus and the opposition — and by the international community at large.

Hope for peace should not be allowed to die. Syrians well deserve it.


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