Where next for Syria?

Kuwait Times - - ANAL­Y­SIS -

While seiz­ing con­trol of Aleppo will not end the Syr­ian war, Bashar Al-As­sad’s regime and its Rus­sian and Ira­nian al­lies have more con­trol now than at any time since the con­flict be­gan, ex­perts say. The United States, Eu­ro­pean pow­ers and Gulf states gath­ered Sat­ur­day for talks with op­po­si­tion rep­re­sen­ta­tives in an in­creas­ingly des­per­ate bid to find a way to end the nearly six-year-old war. But their pow­er­less­ness was pal­pa­ble. The meet­ing ended with US Sec­re­tary of State John Kerry plead­ing with the regime, Rus­sia and Iran to show “a lit­tle grace” and end the “in­dis­crim­i­nate” bomb­ing of Aleppo, which looks set to fall into the hands of As­sad’s forces soon.

Re­treat­ing rebels now con­trol only a pocket of Syria’s sec­ond city, whose fate is seen as piv­otal to the out­come of the con­flict that has killed more than 300,000 peo­ple. Calls from West­ern lead­ers to stop the fight­ing and diplo­macy at the UN have amounted to noth­ing with As­sad and Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin seem­ingly in­tent on push­ing their ad­van­tage. “The idea of the op­er­a­tion is to do what was done in Chech­nya... crush the re­bel­lion and show them that they can do noth­ing against Rus­sian forces,” said Moscow-based an­a­lyst Pavel Fel­gen­hauer.

The West ap­pears re­signed to the fall of Aleppo and to the idea that the regime will have con­trol of the west of the coun­try, from Aleppo to Da­m­as­cus and the cen­tral prov­ince of Homs and the coastal Latakia prov­ince. “The par­ti­tion of Syria is hap­pen­ing,” French For­eign Min­is­ter Jean-Marc Ayrault con­ceded. A Eu­ro­pean diplo­mat, speak­ing on con­di­tion of anonymity, said there was a “de facto di­vi­sion of Syria”. “The Rus­sians are to the West and the West­ern pow­ers of the anti-ji­hadist coali­tion are to the East,” he said.

In Paris, the West­ern coun­tries stressed that al­though the As­sad regime was in the strong­est po­si­tion it had been in since the war be­gan in 2011, tak­ing con­trol of Aleppo would still leave large parts of the coun­try beyond its con­trol. Ex­trem­ists from Fateh al-Sham, the for­mer Al-Qaeda af­fil­i­ate pre­vi­ously known as Al-Nusra Front, and the Is­lamic State group - as well as US-backed Kur­dish mili­tias in the north - re­tain con­trol of many ar­eas. “What sort of peace is it if it’s only the peace of ceme­ter­ies?” Ayrault asked.

Fruit­less meet­ings

Rus­sian and Amer­i­can of­fi­cials will meet again in Geneva to dis­cuss the fight­ing, but even Kerry ad­mit­ted his ex­pec­ta­tions of those talks were “con­strained”. “I know peo­ple are tired of these meet­ings, I’m tired of these meet­ings,” he told re­porters be­fore the Paris gath­er­ing. “But what am I sup­posed to do? Go home and have a nice week­end in Mas­sachusetts, while peo­ple are dy­ing? Sit there in Wash­ing­ton and do noth­ing?”

An­a­lysts say the time­frame and con­di­tions of talks will be set in Da­m­as­cus and Moscow, whose armies are in the as­cen­dency de­spite al­le­ga­tions of war crimes and mount­ing civil­ian deaths. “Aleppo is a crit­i­cal turn­ing point,” Robin Wright, a re­searcher at the United States In­sti­tute of Peace, told US Na­tional Pub­lic Ra­dio (NPR). “As­sad looks ever stronger.”

As­sad or Ex­trem­ists?

Joshua Lan­dis, direc­tor of the Cen­ter for Mid­dle East Stud­ies, also called Aleppo “a ma­jor turn­ing point” that left the West and other coun­tries which op­pose As­sad with few op­tions. Once the city falls, the largest re­main­ing rebel bas­tion will be Idlib prov­ince, con­trolled by a coali­tion dom­i­nated by ex­trem­ists from a for­mer Al-Qaeda af­fil­i­ate. — AFP

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