Syria Conflict: will there be a ‘cessation of hostilities’?

More than 250,000 Syrians have lost their lives in more than four years of conflict. Are world powers getting closer to easing the unrest, or will the country’s civil war continue to worsen?

After day-long consultations in Munich on Thursday 11th February 2016, that lasted until the early hours of Friday morning, US Secretary of State, John Kerry, announced that the US, Russia and other world powers have reached an agreement on a “cessation of hostilities” in Syria’s civil war, allowing for immediate humanitarian access to besieged areas. According to Kerry, the end of hostilities is scheduled to go into effect “in one week’s time”, with humanitarian access to towns and cities in Syria where food and medical supplies have been blocked – for sometimes months – to begin immediately.

Before the agreement, Russian Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov, spoke with his counterpart from Iran, which has been Russia’s ally in backing the Syrian government of President Bashar al-Assad. At the same time, John Kerry sat down with allies backing the Syrian opposition – before all parties gathered for a joint meeting, at which, the deal was struck with all in attendance agreeing that a cessation of hostilities would be the first step towards a full ceasefire.

The effort has been considered a last chance to stop the unrest in Syria that has left hundreds of thousands dead, and caused millions to flee in search of refuge in other countries. Opposition leaders have said they are optimistic after the talks in Munich, claiming though that they will “wait two days and see if all the promises they made are kept”. Salem al-Meslet, a spokesman for a negotiating team, said “hopefully, we’ll see something by Monday”, while Lavrov announced that the projected date for ending at least some of Russia’s airstrikes in Syria is a week from Friday.

However, in spite of the progress made in Munich, just hours before the agreements, Assad vowed to retake the entire country, warning his aims could take a long time – despite attempts by world powers to broker a ceasefire. The Syrian president said his armed forces would try to retake all of Syria, but added that the involvement of regional players “means the solution will take a long time, and incur a heavier price”, further claiming “it makes no sense for us to say that we will give up any part”.

The US State department responded by saying that Assad was “deluded” if he thinks there is a military solution to the war in Syria. Saudi Foreign Minister, Adel al-Jubeir, agreed, saying on Friday that Assad’s removal was vital to defeat Islamic State and that “we will achieve it”. Despite this, Assad has said that his regime’s eventual goal is to retake all of Syria and fight against “terrorism”, regardless.

Rebel groups in Syria have also said they will not stop fighting, expressing scepticism over the deal by world powers pushing for a cessation of hostilities within a week. They are adamant President Assad is removed from power, with the conservative Ahrar al-Sham group saying that it would not stop fighting until government shelling stopped, safe border crossings were opened for civilians, prisoners released, and besieged areas relieved.

Faylaq al-Sham – part of a coalition of seven different groups operating in the north – said that it would not relinquish its weapons until President Assad was removed. While Riad Hijab, co-ordinator of Syria’s main opposition bloc, said a cessation of hostilities before making progress in the political process “is not realistic, objective or logical”.