dianadarke

Syria and Turkey commentary

Chink of Light in #Syria?

Aleppo citadel at night, July 2010 [DD]

Aleppo citadel at night, July 2010 [DD]

The speed at which things can happen once there is international consensus is remarkable. UN Chemical Weapons inspectors are already in Syria just days after the UN Security Council agreed unanimously last week to dismantle the country’s chemical weapons arsenal. They are working to a strict timetable and have just till November to complete their work.

Seven out of the 19 chemical weapons sites which they will be inspecting are, according to the Syrian government (which provided the list of sites) in rebel-held or contested combat zones. Here is the possible chink of light.

Ceasefires will have to be negotiated to enable the UN inspectors to pass through these combat zones to reach these seven sites to verify them and make assessments. The wording of the new UN Resolution makes it clear that action will be taken against anyone – regime or rebels – found to be obstructing the UN inspectors’ work. Such a situation forces compliance and cooperation on all sides and may be the start of a new dynamic on the ground.

So what if consensus can be achieved now, not just on chemical weapons, but on another issue of pressing concern – the need to expel from Syria the recently-formed foreign extremist Islamist groups? Parties involved in the conflict – both inside and outside the country – are increasingly concerned about the rise and rise of such foreign-funded, foreign-composed extremist groups such as ISIS (Islamic State in Iraq and Shaam), which are intent on imposing their vision of an Islamic state on Syrian citizens the overwhelming majority of whom do not want this. Many feel their revolution has been hijacked by these Islamist groups. Some who began by supporting them because they were better funded and better organised than other rebels, now regret their early enthusiasm. After experiencing the reality of life under such radical groups in places like Ar-Raqqa and around Aleppo, they now want to distance themselves and return to something more moderate. 99% of Syrian citizens don’t want them, the Assad regime doesn’t want them, the moderate opposition groups don’t want them, the US, Russia, Israel and European countries don’t want them, seeing them as a greater threat to world stability than either the Syrian regime or the moderate Syrian rebels – it’s beginning to look like another consensus.

On that basis, with the political will, a ceasefire could even be agreed in time for the upcoming Eid Al-Adha on 14 October, marking the end of the pilgrimage season. Over-optimistic perhaps, given it will take time to drive out the extremist fighters even if the regime and the moderate groups were to unite to achieve it. But once there is consensus, remarkable things can happen very quickly, as we have just witnessed.

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