No resolution in sight
Syria’s opposition on Saturday vowed that President Bashar al-Assad must leave power, dead or alive if looming peace talks to end five years of civil war are to succeed. “We believe the transitional period should start with the fall, or death, of Bashar al-Assad,” said chief negotiator for the Riyadh-backed opposition Mohammad Alloush. “It cannot start with the presence of the regime, or the head of this regime still in power.” Although fighting has eased since a ceasefire between the Syrian regime and rebel groups came into effect on February 27, Alloush said that the Assad government and its ally Russia had violated the truce hundreds of times. “There have been more than 350 violations during the 14 days, and that shows the regime violated the truce, or didn’t commit to it,” he said. The United Nations, which is coordinating peace talks set to begin in Geneva on Monday, is aiming for a transitional government to be established in Syria and a new Constitution to be implemented in six months. However, the opposition High Negotiations Committee has emphasised that the transitional government should be given full executive powers, a demand that the regime outright dismissed. Meanwhile, Russia urged Syrian President Bashar Assad to be “constructive” in talks aimed at paving the way for democratic elections in the war-torn country, even as it defended its ally from opposition demands for his ouster. Without a resolution on Assad’s fate, there can be little progress in the peace process. It was only last month that the Assad regime and the opposition agreed to stand by the ceasefire brokered by the US, Russia and Saudi Arabia. But there is another major obstacle, which could come in the way of the peace process, besides Assad’s proposed ouster. The Syrian government, sponsored by Russia, agreed to a ceasefire on the condition that attacks on Islamic State, Al-Nusra, and other UN-identified terrorist groups continue. The united opposition to the Syrian government, meanwhile, sought an end to air strikes by government forces. But there is a lack of clarity on whether the Riyadh-backed Syrian opposition truly represents the balance of forces fighting within rebel-held territory. If there is a significant disconnect, these talks will neither bring about the desired result nor a ceasefire. Efforts to include a myriad of rebel forces in the talks will come at a significant logistical cost. Neither side has agreed on a list of terrorist groups to be excluded from the nationwide ceasefire. There is some consensus that the ceasefire will not apply to the Islamic State, Al-Nusra front, and some other militant groups. Without arriving at a consensus on that list, the agreement will breakdown. Moscow has stated on more than one occasion that all those groups opposed to Assad are terrorists and that no so-called “moderate” opposition exists. Russia’s claim does have some merit.