The Assad regime in Syria has been fighting insurgents for the last two years, but neither side seems strong enough to defeat the other. Now, the government and the opposition appear to want to negotiate.
For a long time, talking to representatives of the Assad government was unthinkable for opponents. Ever since President Bashar Assad began his violent assault on his opponents, who took to the streets during what is now known as the Arab Spring, many have called for an end to his rule. They hold him responsible for the civil war that has plunged the country into a deep crisis. Fights between government and opposition forces have led to more than 70,000 casualties so far, according to UN estimates. While the government has been obtaining arms from Russia and Iran, the opponents have been getting support from Qatar. This is one reason why neither side can prevail militarily.
Change of strategy
There are growing concerns that Syria will disintegrate into fiefdoms along ethnic and religious lines - like neighboring Lebanon. Apart from the Alawites, to which President Assad belongs, minorities, including Christians, the Druze and the Kurds, fear a transfer of power to the Sunni majority, which makes up the core of the armed opposition. Sunni jihadists, especially, have been cause for great concern in the West and many capitals in the region - they have at least partial contact to the terror network al Qaeda and are primarily focused on fighting against the Shiite-aligned Alawites.
The government's opponents now seem ready to change their strategy in order to end the ongoing bloodshed. Last week, the coalition of opponents made conditions for talks with government representatives known.
"On the opposing side, they understand that the government cannot be defeated in the near future," Erik Mohns, a political scientist and Syria expert at the University of Southern Denmark, told DW.
In the recent move, the coalition head, Moaz Al-Khatib, named several precoditions for the talks - including a willingness only to negotiate with members of the government who did not participate in suppressing the uprising. Members of the ruling Baath Party can take part in the talks if they can say that they have "no blood on their hands," said coalition member Walid Bunni, who was standing behind Moaz Al-Khatib.
But not everyone in the coalition agrees about the move. It was recently criticized as damaging for the revolution by the Muslim Brotherhood - the only properly organized political group among the opponents. But the conditions, which were compiled in the past weeks, are expected to be submitted to a meeting of the 70 members of the coalition for approval on Wednesday (20.02.2013). That will give the initiative more significance outside the country.
Little chance for peace
What still remains unclear is the government representatives who will be accepted by the opponents as negotiators.
"In a security state like Syria, it is problematic to tell the extent to which given people participated in the oppression of the protests and which people in power didn't participate," says Mohns.
The Syria expert doesn't expect progress on peace talks very soon.
"I see the opportunity to end the conflict as relatively low," he says, "but the readiness for talks that was indicated is welcome."