Challenges before final peace in Syria

Syrian soldiers in the southern Idlib countryside after reportedly recapturing the area, November 25, 2019. /VCG Photo

Editor’s note: Wang Jin is a research fellow at the Charhar Institute in China and an associate professor at the Northwest University in China. The article reflects the author’s opinions, and not necessarily the views of CGTN.

Nearly two years have passed since the plan for the establishment of the “Syrian Constitution Committee” was advocated during the Sochi Conference held by Russia at the beginning of 2018, but very little has been achieved since then. The distrust between the Syrian government and opposition groups remains, while a meeting between representatives from both sides failed to reach any consensus over the details of the Syrian constitution in November. The road to peace in Syria is still long and difficult.

The purpose of the Syrian Constitution Committee is to facilitate and encourage the peace process inside Syria with the help and assistance of the international community, especially the UN and Russia. The Syrian Constitution Committee would become the major bridge toward peace construction in the war-torn country to narrow the gap between the opposing sides and a new constitution written by the committee would set up a new foundation of new Syria in the future.

The formation of the Syrian Constitution Committee itself witnessed a breakthrough this September when the formation of the committee was approved by both the Syrian government and Syrian opposition groups after a 15-month-long discussion and hesitations. However, the formation of the committee should not be perceived as a success and the guarantee of peace in Syria in the future. The distrust between the Syrian government and Syrian opposition groups is still apparent.

The Syrian government still describes opposition groups as “terrorists,” given that the Syrian government forces are dominating the battlefield, it is not urgent or necessary for the Syrian government to make concessions on the negotiation table. Meanwhile, the leaders of some Syrian opposition groups still call for the “removal” of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Given that the representatives of Syrian opposition groups inside the Syrian Constitution Committee come from different factions located in different foreign states, any major concession made by these representatives could be a blow to their own voices inside the camp of opposition groups.

Delegates of the Syrian government led by Bashar Ja’afari (2nd R, front), Syria’s permanent representative to the United Nations, attend the 14th round of Astana talks in Nur-Sultan, Kazakhstan, December 11, 2019. /Xinhua Photo

The risks of military clashes and confrontations inside Syria still remain. On one hand, major confrontations between Syrian government forces and Syrian rebel groups in Idlib might be provoked. Idlib has been the final major stronghold for Syrian rebel groups ever since the end of 2018 when Syrian government forces successfully regained large areas in central and southern Syria. With Turkey’s assurance and insistence, a “buffer zone” was established separating Syrian government forces and Syrian rebel forces in Idlib. However, the Syrian government forces have been preparing for a major offensive against rebel forces in Idlib to regain the province in northwestern Syria. Skirmishes and clashes between Syrian government forces and rebel groups erupted in a frequent occurrence in Idlib, and these conflicts can turn into an all-out war in Syria.

On the other hand, with the hostility and hatred among Iran-led Shia military groups in Syria, Israel may wage new wars and conflicts. After 2014, Iran directed and organized many Shia militias from Iran, Iraq, Pakistan, and Afghanistan to fight with Syrian government forces against different rebel groups. Many of these Shia militias in Syria, supported by Iran, also uphold slogans such as “retake Jerusalem” and “support Palestinians”, which were perceived as a major threat by Israel. After 2018, several conflicts between Shia militias and Israel occurred in the Golan Heights, and the possibility of a major confrontation between Israel and Iran-backed Shia groups could not be ignored in the future.

In addition, the Kurdish issue might become a “time bomb” in northern Syria. Although a buffer zone was co-established by Turkey and Russia in northern Syria to eliminate the presence of Kurdish militias led by the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD), which Turkey calls a “terrorist group,” the buffer zone might be challenged by PYD militias in the future. With the resettlement of Syrian refugees into the buffer zone area set up by Turkey, the tension between local Syrian Kurds and local administration backed by Turkey could escalate into a major confrontation between PYD militias and Ankara-backed Syrian rebel groups in northern Syria. The Syrian government perceives the buffer zone area in northern Syria as its integral territory, Turkish military presence in this area is perceived as “illegal occupation” by the Syrian people, the buffer zone might drag Turkey, Russia, Syrian government and local rebel groups into a new warfare in the future.

The peace process for Syria is only at its initial phase, while many risks and challenges still remain. More efforts should be made while more patience is required from the international community before final peace is reached by concerned parties inside Syria.

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