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Sabine Muscat / dbMay 14, 2014

A breakthrough eluded international peace envoy Lakhdar Brahimi in his efforts to end the Syrian civil war. The UN mediator's resignation from his post highlights the chaotic situation in the country.

Image: picture-alliance/dpa

UN and Arab League mediator Lakhdar Brahimi had toyed with the thought for a long time before the chief diplomat for Syria took the step and announced his resignation, effective at the end of May 2014.

"He has faced almost impossible odds with the Syrian nation, Middle Eastern regions and the wider international community that have been hopelessly divided in their approaches to ending the conflict," UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon said. "He has persevered with great patience and skill because he knows that without efforts toward a new Syria, the Syrian people will be condemned to further suffering."

It's a sad reality: Three years after the start of the insurgency against the regime of Bashar al-Assad, a way out of the conflict that has claimed more than 150,000 lives and displaced an estimated nine million people is not in sight. According to the French government, the Assad regime used chemical weapons against the Syrian people in 14 cases since October 2013.

Getting worse

Brahimi didn't have many options, said Anthony Cordesman, a Mideast expert with the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. The envoy contributed to easing the humanitarian disaster for the civilian population in some places, but a real breakthrough was never within range, Cordesman told DW.

Syria fighters
Insurgents in Syria take aimImage: Tamer Al-Halabi/AFP/Getty Images

"The fact is at this point it's not clear to anyone how to make progress producing a meaningful political result or a kind of stable humanitarian progress," Cordesman said. "The tragedy we really have is that this is a war that keeps getting worse and no one seems to have the power to change that."

Former Afghanistan mediator Brahimi is the second top diplomat to unsuccessfully work toward a solution in Syria. The 80-year-old Algerian took over the position in September 2012 from former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who also gave up.

Brahimi tried for a diplomatic solution between Assad and his opponents in two rounds of negotiations in Geneva. But after the Syrian ruler called a presidential election for June 3, aimed at cementing his power, hopes for a breakthrough have dwindled even further.

"Fully discouraged"

"I think now is not the time to even think about some kind of diplomatic solution until there seems to be a very fundamental shift," Genevive Abdo, Mideast expert at the Washington-based Stimson Center, told DW. "The Syrian opposition is very discouraged."

Several factors led to the current desperate situation, Abdo said, including the disunity among the Syrian opposition that only served to strengthen Assad's belief that extremists would create chaos without his regulative hand. The international community also made many mistakes in dealing with the powers in the region, Abdo said; for instance, when Iran was first invited to the most recent round of Geneva peace talks and then disinvited again due to US pressure.

detail: map of globe, hand on chair
Brahimi's successor will need plenty of patienceImage: Reuters

There is not much optimism that there will be a diplomatic solution any time soon, Abdo said. "That's not to say there will never be a diplomatic solution to Syria because it doesn't seem the war will ever end without one." The 15-year-old Lebanese civil war was ended with a diplomatic solution, the expert said, adding that "it had some of the same kind of characteristics as Syria, only not as violent."

Wanted: a successor

The search for the next Syrian envoy has begun. It is clear that, above all, he will need patience.

"At this point, it doesn't have to be somebody who has high political visibility," Cordesman said. "It has to be someone who has high credibility for being objective, neutral and having the capability to make convincing arguments for humanitarian action."

It's not a diplomatic masterstroke that will be called for in the near future in the Syria conflict, but day-to-day crisis management.