As­sad is the big win­ner af­ter the de­feat of Isis

The Week - - News -

What next for Syria? The lib­er­a­tion of Raqqa by Us-backed Syr­ian Demo­cratic Forces (SDF) has com­pleted the de­feat of Isis, but that doesn’t mean peace is about to break out, said Pierre Haski in L’obs (Paris). Af­ter a six-year con­flict in which 330,000 peo­ple have been killed, it is Pres­i­dent Bashar al-as­sad – the man re­spon­si­ble for his coun­try’s “des­cent into hell” – who has the up­per hand. His forces con­trol half the ter­ri­tory and two thirds of the pop­u­la­tion; the Kurds, the dom­i­nant force in the SDF, con­trol barely a quar­ter. But though weak and frag­mented, the rebels won’t dis­ap­pear overnight.

Rus­sia and Iran, both back­ers of As­sad, have now brought to­gether rep­re­sen­ta­tives of As­sad’s regime and some op­po­si­tion groups for a meet­ing in the Kazakh cap­i­tal, As­tana, said Al Jazeera (Dubai). The aim is to agree a plan to cre­ate four “de-es­ca­la­tion zones” across eight of Syria’s 14 prov­inces, and to get As­sad to call a six-month halt to air raids in these ar­eas. But Moscow’s plan for the next step – to hold a congress in the Rus­sian city of Sochi and frame a new con­sti­tu­tion, has al­ready run into trou­ble, said Deutsche Welle (Bonn). The anti-as­sad op­po­si­tion in­sists that any such talks should be held un­der the aegis of the UN in Geneva, while Turkey says that the in­vi­ta­tion ex­tended to the Kur­dish YPG mili­tia is un­ac­cept­able. The truth is that none of the ma­jor play­ers seem pre­pared to set­tle, said Haski. Rus­sia only wants to keep As­sad in power; Iran is mo­ti­vated by knee-jerk hos­til­ity to the rebel Sunni op­po­si­tion; and the US has no co­her­ent pol­icy. As for As­sad, the po­lit­i­cal winds are also blow­ing in his favour, said Le Point (Paris). But he may not have the money to re­build his rav­aged coun­try; and he may find it hard to sub­ju­gate the Kurds, who have won a large de­gree of au­ton­omy. But Western gov­ern­ments have backed down from their in­sis­tence on his de­par­ture as a pre­con­di­tion for peace. As se­cu­rity im­proves, re­la­tions could also start to im­prove with Jor­dan and Turkey, both des­per­ate to see the Syr­ian refugees in their coun­tries re­turn home and to re­vive trade re­la­tions.

And in the mean­time, As­sad can use hunger as a weapon, said Carsten Küh­n­topp in Deutsch­land­funk (Ber­lin), a strat­egy he has dubbed “Kneel down or die”. And al­ready it seems to be work­ing. In the east­ern Ghouta re­gion out­side Da­m­as­cus, where 400,000 peo­ple have been un­der siege since 2012, res­i­dents can no longer smug­gle in food through tun­nels, as As­sad’s forces have sealed them. That de­lib­er­ately starv­ing civil­ians is a war crime doesn’t bother him, as long as it forces rebel en­claves to sur­ren­der. For Syria, it’s go­ing to be a long, hard win­ter.

A Kur­dish SDF fighter af­ter the re­cap­ture of Raqqa

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