Two major players in Syria have signaled their intention not to cooperate just 48 hours after the U.S. signed a ceasefire deal with Russia.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry announced the ceasefire deal with his Russian counterpart in Geneva Saturday morning. The agreement stipulates that beginning Monday morning, all parties in Syria will begin a “genuine reduction of violence,” for a period of one week. If the ceasefire holds for a week, then the U.S. will open a joint operations center with Russia meant to target the Islamic State and al-Qaida elements in Syria.
The largest rebel group in Syria stated unequivocally Sunday it would not cooperate with the ceasefire agreement. The rebel group maintains deep ties to al-Qaida, and said a ceasefire would only benefit the Assad regime. The lack of cooperation from one of the biggest battlefield forces in Syria will make it difficult for a “genuine reduction in violence” to occur.
Assad’s rhetoric in the hours before the ceasefire began also calls into doubt his willingness to abide by the agreement. Assad appeared in a symbolic neighborhood Monday and vowed to “retake every inch of Syria.” Assad painted any group who opposed his rule as “terrorists” and said “After five years, some people still haven’t woken up from their fantasies.”
Assad’s position will pose a challenge to Russia, who under the agreement must restrain him from striking rebel targets. Restraining Assad will be especially difficult when one of his biggest battlefield foes has already signaled it will continue attacking regime targets.
Even if the ceasefire agreement holds for a week, U.S. defense officials are deeply skeptical of cooperating with Russia in counter-terrorism targets. Under the deal both parties must agree that a group is a legitimate terrorist target before it can be bombed. Russia has established a consistent pattern of labeling any group that opposes Assad as “terrorists.”
The deal also does not deal in any way with the myriad of extra-national forces fighting for the Assad regime in Syria. These forces include Iranian backed Hezbollah fighters, Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps paramilitary forces, and unacknowledged Russian ground mercenaries.
Kerry and Obama’s first ceasefire deal in Syria fell apart after after Russia, Syria, and several rebel groups consistently violated the agreement. Despite this Kerry pledged at the deal’s announcement, “We believe the plan, if implemented, if followed, has the ability to provide a turning point, a change.”
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