Syrian government forces reportedly stopped shelling rebel positions Thursday, generally honoring a United Nations-brokered cease-fire. But for how long?
Despite some scattered violence, mostly from small-arms fire, the truce seemed to take limited hold.
Unfortunately, though, the truce also seemed quite tenuous — due in large part to the government’s refusal to honor another crucial part of the accord.
Instead of withdrawing as agreed from strongholds within artillery range of the opposition, President Bashar Assad’s troops forces maintained those forward positions.
So it will come as no surprise if — of is it merely when? — the government resumes its mass slaughter of rebels and civilians. That deadly shift might have already begun by the time you read this.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon correctly pointed out Thursday in Geneva: “The onus is on the government of Syria to prove that their words will be matched by their deeds this time. The world is watching, however, with skeptical eyes since many promises previously made by the government of Syria have not been kept.”
The world has watched with horrified eyes for more than a year as Assad’s goons have killed, by the U.N.’s count, more than 9,000 people in a futile effort to quell the widespread popular uprising that began with Syria’s version of the 2011 “Arab Spring.” Some other estimates of the death toll range much higher.
With major protests regularly held on Fridays, today will deliver a tense test of the government’s intentions — and the U.N.’s options.
More wholesale carnage, in blatant violation of the truce, would jeopardize not just Syrians’ lives but the U.N.’s attempts to put observers in hot spots as part of its peace plan.
Kofi Annan, the former U.N. secretary-general who crafted that six-point process, warned Thursday that the cease-fire was just the first step — and that it was “fragile.”
But while realists must heed Assad’s bloody record while anticipating what happens next, optimists can fairly cite his grudging acceptance of any truce a sign that he’s feeling growing international pressure.
Ultimately, of course, ending unrest in Syria will require ending the oppressive, dynastic Assad regime (Bashar followed his father Hafez, also a ruthless despot, into power in 2000).
And while U.N. Security Council members Russia and China have been thwarting stronger international efforts to force Assad to step down, the rest of the world — including Syria’s neighbors — has been increasingly lining up against him.
Turkish officials welcomed refugees from Syria this week and rightly objected when Assad’s troops attacked those fleeing thousands, at times by firing on them across the border. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Thursday that Turkey will seek NATO’s assistance if Syria repeats those territorial violations.
Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia and Qatar are still pushing for an international coalition to arm the rebels.
And whether or not this “fragile,” short-term truce holds, this remains the brightest spot in this dark story:
Assad’s long-term hold on power appears to be slipping.