Ceasefire in Syria - What Does it Mean?

A sliver of hope came through for Syria just days ago when Russia and the United States agreed upon a ceasefire. Why such slim hopes? What’s a ceasefire? And why are two other countries involved in someone else’s civil war?

This map published by Russia shows where the ceasefire supposedly is taking effect (in yellow). 

Well, five years ago, Syria entered a civil war between rebel groups who could no longer handle the persistent leader, Bashar al-Assad and his government. In this five-year period of airstrikes and bombings, the drastic acts of violence have become inclusive of outside forces.

This is where it gets complicated.

In that five-year period, we have seen the growth of ISIS (alongside smaller al-Qaeda linked groups), which has attracted military attention from all over the world, including Canada. This means airstrikes (which Canada has just pulled out of) and ground troop training. Apart from this anti-terrorism campaign, led by the United States, Russia has been backing up the Syrian government to help fight rebel groups trying to oust the government, which is the main cause of the civil war in the first place. So we have a civil war and terrorist war meshing together within one, relatively small country, resulting in the displacement of millions of people.

It’s a problem topping foreign policy issues, yet an issue where finding a solution has been constantly postponed.

But now, after finally reaching an agreement, arms in Syria can finally come to a halt; that is, a ceasefire, meaning the “cessation of hostilities.” All fighting stops. The country is monitored for any violations. This agreement means that the U.S. and Russia will stop their strikes for a period of time, alongside the debated number of rebel groups who have also recognized this cessation. It means that for a few days, maybe more or less, Syrian citizens can live in peace (relatively speaking).  

However, a good question has risen: why haven’t the terrorist groups been mandated to follow the ceasefire rules? Though these groups can be barbaric, they are still considered legitimate groups. They still make a deep, political impact, and should not be underestimated for their ability to make an agreement. If they aren’t accounted for, the ceasefire most likely won’t be able to work as strongly as it could.

Starting at midnight on Friday, the ceasefire has gone into effect,with minimal violence so far, regardless of the calls by terrorist groups to attack. With the idea of getting the crucial element of humanitarian aid to those who have needed it most and who have waited for weeks upon weeks, the ceasefire has allowed volunteers and international organizations to finally follow through. However, the violations, no matter how minimal, make the deal illegitimate and show that larger powers, well, have no power.  

But this ceasefire presents an opportunity to move forward with peace talks, like the upcoming talk happening on March 7th in Geneva. This ceasefire has also allowed the United States and Russia to work together, even though their relationship is highly contentious. They have both urged Syrians to report breaches around the country so that the U.S. and Russia could both investigate and put to trial those who have breached the agreement.

Each day the ceasefire continues, tensions will still be high, relationships contested and violence, at best, absent. It’s a hopeful moment, perhaps one to be skeptical about, but nonetheless a moment that will lead to fewer civilian casualties and a country that can finally breath for a few hours.  

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