Syrians 5-year long battle for survival nears end

Five years have passed ever since the Syrians suffered bloody conflicts, the worst humanitarian crisis and various hardships amid echoing blasts and sectarian rivalries.

syrian flag

It was in March 2011 when protests and conflicts broke out in Syria and since then the country has been plunged into bloody hell which claimed tens of thousands of lives.

syrian flagFive years ago, the protests started in Daraa in southern Syria, later spread to Damascus and spread other Syrian cities, prompting the government to crackdown on opposition activists.

The first rebel group was formed in this year under the name of Free Syrian Army (FSA), which was said to have been formed of military defectors. In the same year, the United States and European Union imposed sanctions on the government.

In 2012, the rebels’ ranks became more radicalized with the Nusra Front group announcing its formation as the al-Qaida wing in Syria, ushering in a further militarization of the conflict and mounting international and regional calls on President Bashar al-Assad to step down.

In that year, Syrians had voted on a new constitution, which included new amendments to quell the growing insurgency, mainly bringing in multi-party system.

Still, the move failed to quell the growing insurgency and much of the Arab and foreign embassies in Syria were closed against the backdrop of the violence.

In June 2012, world powers, who met in Geneva, said they had agreed on peace plan to the country, including the formation of a transitional government that could include members of the Syrian government and the opposition.

That plan was never materialized, but remained a base for further understandings.

In 2013, the conflict grew more radicalized with the emergence of the Islamic State (IS) group, which was the most powerful among other rebel groups.

At that time, the Syrian opposition felt that their “revolution” was highjacked by the extremist groups. Also, foreign fighters started pouring into the country more obvious than before, joining the ranks of both party of the conflict.

The rebels and the Islamic State received their supplies of arms and fighters largely through the Turkish borders, and the leader of the Lebanese Shiite Hezbollah group, Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, said his group was supporting Assad.

In the early hours of August 21, 2013, several opposition-controlled areas in the suburbs around Damascus were struck by rockets containing the chemical agent sarin, killing as many as 1,400 people. Both the opposition and the government traded accusations.

In October 2013, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) officials arrived in Syria to monitor the dismantlement of the Syrian chemical weapons arsenal, after Damascus officially joined the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons Convention.

The OPCW later said that the government has made its chemical weapon production facilities inoperable.

The dismantlement of the Syrian chemical weapons was due to a U.S.-Russian understanding, the first sign of a consensus between both powers on the Syrian conflict.

In 2014, a second round of talks were held in Geneva, but the participants failed to agree on an agenda.

Presidential elections also took place in this year, the first multi-candidate elections the country has witnessed since the Assad family claimed power in four decades ago. Assad won over two other candidates in the elections.

In that year, the IS announced Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi as its self-declared caliphate in areas under this group’s control between Syria and Iraq.

In September 2014, the United States and some Arab countries launched combined airstrikes against Syria, as part of the U.S.-led anti-terror coalition. against the IS positions.

The U.S.-led airstrikes were largely focused on IS-controlled areas in northern Syria. Such strikes were also crucial for the Kurds, who have made gains against the IS group backed by the U.S. air cover.

2015 has witnessed powerful retaliation from the Syrian army against an array of rebel groups across the country, due to the support of the Hezbollah group and the ensued intervention of the Russian air force in backing the government forces in key battlefields.

2015 was not only a year for a military progress for the Syrian army only, but also was a year when a real international consensus on solving the Syrian crisis was felt.

This year also witnessed a surge in the number of refugees, seeking safe havens in Europe, causing what is now known as the refugee crisis in Europe.

In November 2015, Russia, the United States and powers from Europe and the Middle East agreed in Vienna on a time table of establishing a transition government of Syria, and to hold an election within 18 months.

They also agreed that fighting the IS terror group is a priority in the course of achieving a political settlement in Syria.

“The mechanism of a political solution has become evident, and all of the voices now are directed towards the political solution,” said Hasan Abdul-Azim, head of the National Coordination Body (NCB), the major political opposition force inside Syria.

“Everyone needs a political solution and no one can shy away from engaging in this political efforts, neither the government nor the opposition.

Anyone who would isolate himself will find himself out of the equation,” he told Xinhua, reflecting the desire of all the Syrians who have suffered from the years of suffering.

Throughout the last five years, the country has withstood massive damage of infrastructure, and entire cities were reduced to rubbles.

Not only buildings, but also the economy of the country has sustained deadly damage, represented in the sharp decline of the value of the Syrian pound against major foreign currencies, which led to devastating economic crisis.

Recent estimates said that 6.6 million Syrians have been internally displaced, while 4.6 million others have fled the country to take refuge abroad. Additionally, as many as 250,000 people have been killed during the deadly conflicts.

But in the first three months of 2016, the prospects of the political solution were more promising than ever, with analysts expecting the sixth year of the Syrian war to be the year of the beginning of the solution, particularly after the recently-established truce was still holding in its third week.

The truce, or the cessation of hostilities, was supported by Russia and the United States as well as the international community in general.

Even though it excluded the IS and the Nusra Front, as both were designated as terrorist groups by the UN, the truce was largely holding in parts of the country.

“It’s difficult to speculate what will happen in the sixth year, but it’s apparently going to be the year of solutions as the truce, which has been recently endorsed, is entering its third week and it’s still holding,” Maher al-Muwanness, a Syrian journalist and political researcher told Xinhua.

The truce, he said, also coincides with the fresh round of Geneva talks, whose new round was opened on Monday.

“It’s the year of solution according to all of the current developments. It’s the year of ending the war, or the beginning of the end of this war,” al-Muwanness said.

Other analysts speculated that the fresh talks in Geneva will yield some good results.

“I think due to the currently-established ceasefire, and humanitarian access that has been granted to humanitarian organizations, the ceiling of negotiations in Geneva will be high this time,” Emad Naddaf, a Syrian political analyst, said.

He said the formation of a new government and early elections were expected to be discussed in this round, even though the foreign minister of Syria, Walid al-Moallem, preceded the conference with remarks about the government’s redlines, which include the government reluctance to talk about the Syrian presidency or the fate of Assad.

The opposition also placed preconditions, such as the demand of a transitional governing body with full executives. Still, the prospects of this year’s talks seem positive.

In his recent press conference, al-Moallem speculated that the Syrian crisis is drawing to an end.

Munther Khddam, an opposition figure with the NCB, told Xinhua that the new year of the crisis will be the year that will put the country back on the track of the political solution.

“It’s obvious that the crisis has been put back on the track of a political settlement. At least two most important issues have been achieved in terms of the humanitarian access of aid and medicine to besieged Syrian areas, and the cessation of hostilities, both are extremely important,” Khaddam said.

He said that the NCB will exert all efforts in the hope of bringing a quick end to the Syrian crisis.

Hmaidi al-Abdullah, a Syrian political analyst who runs a political research center in Damascus, said the Geneva talks will enhance the political options for Syria, as it’s now based on new developments on ground, namely the idea of countering terrorism in a number of Syrian cities, in tandem with establishing national reconciliations and delivering humanitarian aide to besieged areas.

“We can say that if the Geneva meeting yielded immediate results or not, the positive results have already started appearing on ground, which will usher in a solution for the crisis,” Abdullah said.

Even the Western powers admitted the Syrian situation is becoming better.

Kerry said violence in Syria has reduced “by 80 to 90 percent” since a UN-sponsored ceasefire came into effect, adding that peace talks should go ahead despite truce violations.

Another sign of a possible solution in the country was the surprise news about the withdrawal of the Russian forces from Syria, which was announced after a phone call between President Assad and his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin.

Analysts saw the move as a step to encourage the political process in Syria, particularly as representatives from the government and opposition are meeting in Geneva on Tuesday to start indirect talks about possible solution.

Even Assad himself has reportedly “expressed Damascus’ readiness to start a political process in the country as soon as possible,” hoping that the talks in Geneva could yield fruits and tangible results, according to the semi-official al-Watan newspaper on Tuesday.


Syria denies any dispute with Moscow behind Russia pulling out forces

DAMASCUS, March 14 (Xinhua) — Syria on Monday denied any dispute or problem between Moscow and Damascus, against rumors following Russia’s decision to withdraw forces from Syria.

Syria’s presidential media office completely denied the claims on some opposition websites, saying the Russian decision came after complete coordination with the Syrian side. Full story

White House says to review Russia’s withdrawal from Syria

WASHINGTON, March 14 (Xinhua) — The White House said on Monday it will assess Moscow’s decision to pull out its air forces from Syria.

“We will have to see exactly what Russia’s intentions are,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest told a daily press briefing. Full story

Talks ahead, Syria bears world’s hopes for peace

by Xinhua writer Zhang Xu

CAIRO, March 13 (Xinhua) — A hard-won truce spared Syria a chance to solve its crisis without guns, along with the world’s hopes for the upcoming talks in Geneva.

Any progress would be a promising step forward for the war-torn country, which has been a global limelight for five years since the uprising against the President Bashar Assad erupted, so far killing over 270,000 people.

Source: Xinhua

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