- Meeting comes amid flare in violence claimed by Islamic State
- Truce without political settlement is fragile, analyst says
Syria’s main political opposition will meet on Monday to discuss a proposed cease-fire whose potential for even limited success was undercut by a spike in violence claimed by Islamic State.
The meeting in the Saudi capital, Riyadh, will center on Syrian armed factions’ demand for international guarantees that Iran and Russia will implement the cease-fire, the negotiating committee of the National Syrian Coalition opposition group said on Twitter. The coalition’s chief negotiator will report on his meeting with armed factions in Turkey last week and then the group will give its final position on the truce, its vice president, Hisham Marwah, said by phone from Istanbul.
The U.S. and Russia, which back opposing sides in the five-year conflict, have been pressing for a halt in the bloodshed that has killed more than 260,000 and displaced half of Syria’s 23 million people. On Sunday, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said a limited cease-fire may be reached soon, after his government and Russia agreed provisionally on its terms.
Agreement on a truce is the first step toward resolving the Syrian crisis, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said, according to the Twitter page of Iran’s state-run Arabic news channel Al-Alam.
Scaling back the violence has become even more urgent for the U.S. amid mounting concerns that Turkey and Saudi Arabia will be drawn more deeply into the conflict. Russia and Iran are already backing Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, while the U.S., Turkey and Saudi Arabia are supporting rebels, including some radical Islamists.
The cease-fire’s scope is limited, however. Islamic State, the al Qaeda-linked Nusra Front and other groups listed as terrorist organizations by the United Nations are not party to the proposal. On Sunday, Islamic State claimed responsibility for suicide bombings that killed 184 people in Shiite areas of Homs province and a Damascus suburb, according to the U.K.-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which monitors the fighting through a network of activists on the ground.
“The problem with such a provisional truce is that it has no political settlement in the background,” said Sami Nader, head of the Beirut-based Levant Institute for Strategic Affairs. “This is why it’s very fragile and the proof is what happened in Homs and Damascus.”
Zones controlled by the regime and military victories “are not sustainable because you seize territory but you cannot establish peace,” he added. “This is a big message to the Russians and the regime who are betting on a military solution.”
The balance has shifted in Assad’s favor since Russia intervened militarily on his behalf in September. Syrian troops backed by Russian airstrikes extended advances against rebels and Islamic State militants in the country’s north last week, capturing at least 18 villages east of Aleppo, Syria’s most populous city, according to SOHR.
There have been three major attempts to end the violence that began in March 2011. The latest round of negotiations broke down in early February, and were followed by talks in Munich that aimed for a partial cessation of hostilities by Feb. 19.