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Cracks showing in Syrian truce deal

February 13, 2016

Even before it has gone into effect, a "cessation of hostilities" deal for Syria is under threat. Cracks are beginning to show as Russian bombing continues, and a Saudi diplomat promises Assad has no future in Syria.

Syrien Aleppo Zerstörung nach Luftangriffen
Image: Reuters/A. Ismail

Saudi Arabia's Foreign Minister, Adel Al-Jubeir, told Germany's daily newspaper "Süddeutsche Zeitung" that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad would not be ruling Syria in the future despite the ongoing military support he received from Russia.

"There will be no Bashar al-Assad in the future," al-Jubeir told the Munich-based newspaper. "It might take three months; it might take six months or three years. But he will no longer carry responsibility for Syria. Period."

Al-Jubeir criticized Russia's involvement in the war, saying that the Syrian people would eventually topple the regime despite the heavy Russian airstrikes. He added that Assad's calls for help from various powers in the region were in vain.

"Now he called the Russians, but they won't be able to help him either," he said.

Adel Al-Jubeir
Saudi Arabian Foreign Minister Adel Al-Jubeir rules out any involvement for Bashar al-Assad in Syria's futureImage: Reuters/C. Barria

In a rare interview, Assad told the AFP news agency that he would continue to "fight terrorism" while talks for implementing a truce agreement took place. He said he would retake the entire country, although he also admitted this could take a long time.

The US State Department said Friday that the war in Syria would only end at the negotiating table.

"[Assad is] deluded if he thinks that there's a military solution to the conflict in Syria," deputy State Department spokesman Mark Toner told reporters. "All we're looking at, if the Syrian regime continues the fighting, is more bloodshed, more hardship and, frankly, a greater hardening of positions on either side."

Russia's bombing campaign

Moscow has suggested it would not necessarily stop its campaign of airstrikes in Syria while diplomats meet in Munich this weekend. Several Western countries have said there was no hope for lasting progress without a halt to the Russian bombing, which has quickly tipped the balance of power in the military campaign in favor of Assad's troops.

Russia entered Syria's five-year war in September 2015, aiding the Syrian president's efforts to regain territory lost to warring factions. Moscow has claimed its airstrikes target terrorist extremists, chiefly the self-declared "Islamic State" (IS) and the al Qaeda-affiliated al-Nusra Front. Western governments, however, have said the attacks often target rebel groups fighting Assad. Turkey's foreign minister even said Russian jets had targeted schools and hospitals in Syria.

Bashar al-Assad
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad remains confident that he will retake control of the countryImage: Getty Images/AFP/J. Eid

Kerry: don't rule out troops to fight regime

Major world powers attending the Munich Security Conference (MSC) called on Moscow to end its bombing while truce talks take place. US Secretary of State John Kerry even said that more foreign troops could be sent to the conflict if present plans to bring hostilities to an end within a week failed to materialize on account of Russia's bombing.

"If the Assad regime does not live up to its responsibilities, and if the Iranians and the Russians do not hold Assad to the promises that they have made [...] then the international community obviously is not going to sit there like fools and watch this. There will be an increase of activity to put greater pressure on them," Kerry told Dubai-based Orient TV at the MSC conference.

"There is a possibility there will be additional ground troops," Kerry added.

John Kerry
John Kerry warned that military campaigns may be stepped up if peace plans failImage: picture-alliance/AP Photo/F. Mori

US President Barack Obama had previously ruled out sending American ground troops to Syria, but Saudi Arabia recently also offered to send troops to Syria, if they were requested by the United States and fought against "Islamic State" as part of an international coalition.

A brittle truce

Although billed as a potential breakthrough, the "cessation of hostilities" agreement drawn up in Munich on Friday will only go into effect at the beginning of March, by which time Assad's troops are expected to have won their biggest victory yet by taking the city of Aleppo with the backing of Russian air power.

The agreement technically falls short of qualifying as a formal ceasefire since it was not signed by the main warring parties - the opposition and government forces. But if implemented properly, the deal could allow humanitarian aid to reach besieged towns.

White House spokesman Eric Schultz called the agreement "an important step," but added that in the coming days, "we will be looking for actions, not words, to demonstrate that all parties are prepared to honor their commitments."

The agreement was described by the countries that took part in it as a rare diplomatic success in a conflict that has seen at least 250,000 people killed and displaced 11 million more, with many fleeing to Europe as refugees.

ss/sms (AFP, Reuters)